Today is the birthday (in 1811) of William Makepeace Thackeray, best known for his satirical novel Vanity Fair. Thackeray lived in
For which no rhyme our language yields,
Rue Neuve des petits Champs its name is—
And there ’s an inn, not rich and splendid,
But still in comfortable case—
The which in youth I oft attended,
To eat a bowl of Bouillabaisse.
A sort of soup, or broth, or brew,
Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes,
Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffern,
Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dace;
All these you eat at Terrés tavern,
In that one dish of Bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse is particularly associated with the Mediterranean coast of
Every region and every expert insists that particular combinations of fish and shellfish are essential for authenticity, but in reality of course the dish is an opportunistic one typical of peasant and fishing communities – whatever you catch goes into the pot. The author of The Larousse Gastronomique (I am using the 1961 edition) maintains that the authentic bouillabaisse comes from
The Larousse explains that in some regions potato is added and saffron omitted, or leeks are substituted for onions, and the garnish also varies in different regions (poached eggs sound good), and that the bread it is served over and with varies (toasted or not, rubbed with garlic or not, or in Marseilles a special bread is made for for bouillabaisse called marette). It also explains at some length the difference between bouillabaisse and chaudrée and cotriade and bourrides , and not understanding the differences myself between these dishes, I attempted to summarise the Larousse’s descriptions. I am no clearer on the subject, but you may be.
Chaudrée : fish stew from Fouras on the
Cotriade: fish stew from
Bourride: fish stew from
I have chosen one of the bouillabaisse recipes from the Larousse, a ‘home dish’ version from
Pick over and wash 2 pounds (1 kilo) of spinach. Cook for 5 minutes in boiling water, then dip into cold water and drain, press with the hands to extract all water, and chop.
Put ¼ cup ( ½ decilitre) of oil into an earthenware casserole, add a chopped onion, previously fried lightly without browning, and the spinach. Cook on a low fire for five minutes, stirring all the time.
When the spinach is nicely seared, add five sliced waxy potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and a little saffron. Moisten with a quart (1 litre) of boiling water, add 2 chopped cloves of garlic and a sprig of fennel, and leave to cook, covered with a lid, on a low flame.
When the potatoes are cooked, break into the pan 4 eggs and cook gently. Serve the dish as it is.
The only explanation I can think of for a fish-less bouillabaisse is that the word ‘bouillabaisse’ comes from bouillir (to boil) and abaisser (to reduce) - there are no inherently fishy connotations in the word itself, so perhaps once upon a time it applied to any sort of stew? Any French culinary scholars out there care to enlighten us?
Tomorrow’s Story …
Victualling the ‘Mary Rose’.Quotation for the Day …
At that comfortable tavern on Pontchartrain we had a bouillabaisse than which a better was never eaten at