I used to make a variation on Patricia Wells’ recipe for a Lyon dish called Chicken Bouillabaisse. But I’m not sure if they’d eat it down the river in Marseille, the capital of piscatorial bouillabaisse, that being the true bowlful of heavenly solids-juices-rouille-etc. bearing that mellifluous name. I really should have asked those bejeaned Pagnolians standing just by the metro exit when we emerged at the downtown tip of Marseille’s Vieux Port a few years ago — the stage manager of my memories had kindly placed these fellows right in our path.
At all events I’ve long felt that the chicken bouillabaisse of the excellent Ms. Wells was hiding a fish or fishes that wanted to get into the recipe and send its fowl neighbors scampering across the nearest turf. So I’ve adjusted the recipe so it contains a good hunk of cod and also dispenses with the potatoes that always seemed redundant, or at any rate difficult to get soft in the appointed time, and there’s not a poulet in sight.
Herewith the new and improved product:
About three hours before your scheduled fish soup dinner for two persons combine in a large casserole 2 chopped tomatoes, a large onion in quarters or eighths, a fennel bulb trimmed and chopped, 2 pressed garlic cloves, 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, as much saffron as you dare, plus thyme and pepper, also bayleaf if you have it. Stir all these ingredients well, then add a cod steak, cover the lot and refrigerate.
Next, about 40 minutes before serving, commence cooking the lot, still covered, over medium heat, adding 20 minutes later a couple cups of vegetable broth. Serve with large croutons spread with saffron mayonnaise, a mix of lemon juice-pressed garlic-and saffron stirred into mayonnaise homemade or store-bought. Feel free to play with the balance of these heady elements.
Well, those fellows by the Marseille subway exit were in full accord with the oo’s and ah’s of the metro passengers from San Francisco suddenly finding Mrs. Fisher’s considerable town thrust upon them, boat sails as far as the eye could see and Notre Dame de la Garde up on the hill as if playing inspiration for San Francisco’s Coit Tower seen from a pier by Fishermans Wharf. Naturally the fellows posed for pictures, and snapped us in turn.
Then we checked into the Beauvau (Chopin and Ms. Sand slept here), eyed the olive markets of North African provenance, ate an exemplary bouillabaisse at Loury, and listened to the little Saturday night Renaults humming by our window till dawn.
Sequel: a few months later we were debating whether to cross the threshold of an oldtime “family style” Italo-American restaurant in a somewhat sagging hamlet west of Cotati, California — there’d be a hearty minestrone, lasagna, a meal painted red — when out sauntered the red-neckiest sort of fellow, middle aged, beer bellied, a sort of Marlboro Man put out to pasture so to speak, and he strode toward a mammoth ancient Cad convertible. Well, we got talkin’ and it wasn’t long before he was extolling the gastronomical virtues of a certain fish restaurant down in central California.
“They’ve go the best darned Boshbash around!” he exclaimed. And who were we to disagree with the Marlboro Man of bouillabaisse?