How to make the authentic bouillabaisse is always a subject of lively discussion among French experts; each always insists that his own is the only correct version. If you do not happen to live in Hout Bay, you cannot obtain the most common fish like, Cob, Yellowtail, Cape Salmon, Kingklip that I think is essential fish for my perfect bouillabaisse, but you can make an extremely good homemade copy even if you have only fresh fish and canned clam juice to work with, because all the other essential flavours of tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, and basic ingredients are always available.
For the best and most interesting flavour, pick three or more varieties of fish. Some of the fish should be firm fleshed and gelatinous, some should be tender and flaky like kingklip, hake and sole. The firm fish hold their shape, and the tender fish partially disperse in the soup. Shellfish are optional, but always add glamour and colour if you wish to include them.
Except for live crayfish and crabs, all the fish may be cleaned, sliced, and refrigerated several hours before the final cooking. The soup base may be boiled, strained, and refrigerated. The actual cooking of the fish in the soup will take only about 20 minutes, and then the dish should be served immediately.
Fish for bouillabaisse should be lean, and of the best and freshest-smelling quality. Have the fish cleaned and scaled; discard gills. Save heads, bones, and trimmings for the soup base. Cut large fish into crosswise slices of 2 inches wide. Scrub the clams, scrub and soak the mussels and wash the scallops. If using live crab or crayfish split just before cooking; remove sand sack and intestinal tube from crayfish, and tail flap from under crabs.
Bouillabaisse a la Hout Bay
(Serves 3 to 5 guests)
The Soup Base
1 cup sliced onions
¾ to 1 more red onions
½ cup of olive oil
A heavy 8-quart kettle or casserole
2 to 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes and 4 cloves mashed garlic
Cook the onions slowly in the olive oil for 5 minutes without browning.
Stir in the tomatoes and garlic, and cook 5 minutes more.
2½ fish stock
1 cup white wine
6 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
½ tsp thyme
1/8 tsp fennel
2 big pinches of saffron
A 2-inch piece or ½ tsp dried orange peel
1/8 tsp pepper
1 Tb fennel salt (equal amounts salt & fennel grinded together in a pestle & mortar)
Cooking the Bouillabaisse
The soup base
6 to 8 lbs. assorted lean fish, and shellfish if you wish, selected and according to directions at beginning of recipe
Bring the soup base to a rapid boil in the kettle about 20 minutes before serving. Add crayfish, crabs, and firm-fleshed fish. Bring quickly back to the boil and boil rapidly, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Then add the tender-fleshed fish, and the clams, mussels, and scallops. Bring back to the boil again for 5 minutes. Do not overcook.
A hot platter
A soup tureen or soup casserole
Rounds of toasted French bread
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
At the table, each guest is served or helps himself to both fish and soup, placing them in a large soup plate. Eat the bouillabaisse with a large soup spoon and fork, helped along with additional pieces of French bread. If you wish to serve wine, you have a choice of rosé, a strong dry white wine, or a light, young red.