Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


ONE THING leads to another. And, seemingly, to two-part items here recently at SimanaitisSays. There I was, reading a London Review of Books article by Inigo Thomas on Maison Empereur, a Marseille, France, hardware store founded in 1827.

The article mentions Chateau d’If, Marseille’s island prison, whence Edmond Dantes came to be the Count of Monte Cristo. Also cited is Philippe Pétain, Vichy France’s Chief of State, who, according to LRB’s Thomas, “refused to make Marseille the capital of unoccupied France because its lawlessness was at odds with the virtuous nation he claimed to represent.”

Pétain doesn’t fool me one bit. I’ve seen Casablanca, indeed, many times.

Thomas also describes bouillabaisse, that most renowned of Marseille’s culinary achievements. He says it’s “emblematic of that defiance of codification. Despite all the attempts to standardise it, no one bouillabaisse is the same as another. The dish, with its rapid boiling and slower simmering, as its name implies….”

Hmm…. This culinary/etymological advice diverted me into cooking mode. I’ve made seafood concoctions, among them Calamari, Peperoni e Cipolle, Mar i Muntanya, and Freezer Clean-Out Gumbo, but never actually attempted bouillabaisse.

Bouillabaisse. Image from Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, 12 volumes, Fawcett Publications, 1966.

My classic Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, 1966, provided a lovely photo, recommended the boiling/simmering thing, but added eel among its required seafood.

It’s not that I’m ell-averse, you understand. Japanese grilled unagi is very tasty. However, Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery was perhaps a bit too Biology 101 in its description of eel preparation: “Hold head in one hand and grasp skin with the other hand. Or use a pair of pliers. Strip the skin off as you would a glove in one motion.”

The Aguilliforme order has 20 families, 111 genera, and some 800 species.

We pause here to search out bouillabaisse recipes sans Anguilliformes.

Aha! That’s where Anguilla gets its name. Do you remember when the Brits tried to invade this Caribbean island, but were thwarted by their own “Bay of Piglets”?

No; enough already with today’s sidetracks. Tomorrow we focus on bouillabaisse, more or less. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. Michael Rubin
    May 21, 2018

    Wonder if old (1940’s) recipes included Vichy water…will have to check our standard French cooking reference – Louis Diat – to see what he says about how to treat an eel to a disrobing.

    • simanaitissays
      May 21, 2018

      I remember Renault’s gesture with Vichy Water near the end of Casablanca.

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