I’ve reached Provence Alpes Côtes d’Azur, tucked down in the bottom right corner of France.
I bet you’re thinking seafood. Yip. White fish stews and preparations made with olive oil, tomatoes and garlic. Fruits and vegetables are intensified in the Provence sun—melons with heavenly scent, big sweet peppers, glossy aubergines, fat heads of garlic, quince and apricots, succulent figs, tangy olives, almonds and pistachios, heady spices, aromatic herbs, lavender honey. What a garden!
I have yellow hands. And my workstation looked like a war zone. Today was battle of the Bouillabaisse. A fish stew from Marseille made with sea bream, mussels and crabs and served with a garlic crouton and Rouille. A rouille, by the way, is a Provençal sauce or emulsion. I’ve been thinking Bouillabaisse is just a fish stew. Boy, should I know better. This was the third of our 4 exam dishes. One more to go next week.
Hello sea bream. Scales removed—instant mess. Chef gets us to clingfilm the board when scaling to allow for efficient cleaning. These scales flew everywhere, like little silver frisbees. And when they land they stick. Clean-up on aisle 4. Removed the tail, fins, gills, eyes and guts. Scales went everywhere. No real issues filleting though I felt a bit clumsy as I took my knife up and over the rib cage. The previous filleting technique we were taught was simply to slice through the rib cage and remove the ribs from each fillet afterwards.
I’m so glad I bought a big skimmer back in Basic Cuisine because this was a skimming marathon.
To make a fish stock, shore crabs were smashed up in a hot pan with the end of a rolling pin. Disgorged fish bones and the head bits were added along with white leek, celery, a Bouquet Garni and water. It’s essential to bring this up to a simmer slowly and to watch for the point just before the boil. This is the optimum time to skim because scum starts to join together. Miss it and the boil starts and you get a cloudy stock. Simmer, skim, skim, skim for 20 minutes. At the same time I prepared the vegetables. After, the stock was blitzed for 10 seconds in a Thermomix—juice erupted through the hole in the top. Mess. The slurry was passed through a chinois and plunged with a ladle. Splish. Splosh. Splash. More mess. Clean.
Onto the Bouillabaisse liquor. Building layers of flavour again, like with the braised cabbage. First, onion, garlic and fennel were sweated in olive oil. Then tomato paste added and cooked out. In with plum tomatoe concasse, star anise, saffron, orange juice and the fish stock. Simmer, skim, skim, skim. Potato disks and trimmings were added. More skim, skim, skim, careful not remove the saffron.
Just when you think you’ve got everything under control you realise there are still croutons and a Rouille to make. But you can’t start the Rouille until the potato trimmings are cooked and cooled. You’ve gotta watch the spuds. They can’t overcook and you want to decant those trimmings at the earliest opportunity.
Crack on with the croutons then. Baguette slices painted with olive oil, seasoned and into the oven. Rubbed with garlic when golden toasty.
Now the Rouille. A red chilli was scorched with a blowtorch, peeled, chopped and pounded into a paste. Garlic was chopped and made into a paste with a rowing action of my chef’s knife. Egg yolk was added plus a pinch of saffron and puréed potato trimmings. Everything was beaten into a paste then olive oil whisked in just like a mayonnaise. A small amount of liquor from the Bouillabaisse was incrementally incorporated to thin the mix, which was seasoned with lemon juice and salt at the end. Cool stuff. Rouille made. Tasty.
Final stretch. Crabs went into the liquor. These were for garnish. Next the mussels—cleaned, scraped and tested for dead ‘uns. Lastly in went the fish portions. Lid on.
I put up a good dish about 10 minutes late. Pretty, nicely seasoned, everything properly cooked. If there was more time I’d have liked to reduce the liquid just a little more. Chef said to use 3 potato slices of the same diameter for presentation, and if necessary to peel the potato to a consistent diameter before cooking. Good advice. Noted for the exam.