When thinking of a warming stew for the winter, meat or poultry are the obvious choices but after the onslaught of the festive season the healthier option of fish makes a lot of sense.
A real bouillabaisse, as prepared in Marseille, has to be one of my favourite dishes. In fact, a bouillabaisse I enjoyed a few years ago at the famous Chez Michel restaurant on the sea front in Marseille will always be remembered as one the finest meals I have ever eaten.
But to cook an authentic bouillabaisse takes a great deal of time and effort, boiling down all those fish bones and prawns, then liquidising and straining to achieve the intense depth of flavour.
In fact, the last time I cooked it at home my dear wife banned the dish from our kitchen, such was the mess I made and the smell of fish that pervaded the kitchen for a few days after cooking it!
This recipe is far from authentic in technique and lacks the traditional main fish ingredient of rascasse (rock fish), but it is relatively simple to prepare and fairly mess-free.
Ingredients (serves 4)
▪ Around 800g of mixed fresh fish on and off the bone
▪ 4 large whole prawns
▪ 1 tin chopped tomatoes
▪ 2 medium-sized onions
▪ 2 cloves garlic
▪ 1 bay leaf
▪ 500ml of dry white wine
▪ 2 red peppers
▪ 1 teaspoon paprika
▪ A large pinch of saffron
▪ Salt to taste
▪ Fresh herb to garnish (parsley or tarragon work well)
The key to getting this dish right is to use real saffron and not to skimp – a good pinch of strands around the size of a small teaspoon will do it. Make a sauce base by liquidising the wine with the red peppers and tomatoes with the saffron and paprika.
Remove the heads and shells from the prawns and reserve the meat from the tails. Start by frying the prawn heads in olive oil until fragrant, then add sliced onions and continue frying until softened. Add bay leaf and finely chopped garlic followed by the sauce base and cook covered over medium heat for 30 minutes. Fish out the prawn heads, add chopped fish and shelled prawns to briefly poach in the sauce.
Season to taste with sea salt and ground black pepper, and serve with crusty bread and aioli (or garlic mayonnaise).
By PATRICK STUART [email protected]