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SEVERAL OF MY other cookbooks offer bouillabaisse recipes of one sort or another, but its most entertaining description comes from Alan Davidson’s Mediterranean Seafood. This is the one that led me to memories of the Monaco Grand Prix, a tidbit about saffron production I wouldn’t have believed, a trip to my local supermarket, and a tasty dinner for Wife Dottie and me.
Concerning bouillabaisse, Davidson says that “a great number of recipes for it have been published, containing different and even contradictory injunctions on various points. Emotive expressions are used with relative frequency in this group of recipes.”
Culinary drama is always entertaining.
He cites five essential things: “(1) Marseille is top city for bouillabaisse. (2) A wide variety of fish should be used, among which there must be a rascasse, several fish with firm flesh and some with delicate flesh. (3) The liquid used consists of olive oil and water which must be boiled fast to ensure their amalgamation. (4) Onions, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, saffron are always used.” And last, “(5) The fish is served separately from the broth. The broth is poured over pieces of toast or served with croûtons.”
Good; no eel. But what about that rascasse?
Motorsports enthusiasts may recognize Rascasse Corner as part of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. It’s the tight right-hander leading to Antony Noghes and the start/finish line. The corner gets its name from La Rascasse, the bar located at its apex. The bar in turn gets its name from the rascasse fish, aka the red scorpionfish.
Scorpionfish, including the rascasse, have extremely poisonous spines. Stings are said to feel like the bite of a rattlesnake.
Geez, at least my Japanese favorite, unagi, isn’t deadly. (And, by the way, electric eels aren’t really eels; they’re knifefish.)
Davidson writes that rascasse has a “remarkably firm white flesh—not unlike that of the lobster.” Indeed, there is a California scorpionfish, Scorpaena guttata, sort of a rascasse américaine, but my local supermarket’s lobster tail is fine with me. I like mussels too.
In fact, the only other ingredient not ordinarily in our kitchen is saffron, the spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus.
A pinch of saffron imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to food and a subtle hay-like flavor. My little tube of it comes from Spain. According to Wikipedia, Iran now accounts for about 90 percent of the world’s saffron. Curiously, Pennsylvania Dutch communities in Lancaster County continue to cultivate it as well.
Here’s my take on Bouillabaisse Californienne.
I confess that Bouillabaisse Californienne isn’t completely authentic. Fortunately, Davidson writes, “I am tolerant. But some people go too far astray. The world record is, I think, held by xxxxx [omitted here out of kindness], whose recipe begins: ‘Put one can of tomato soup and one can pea soup in top of a double boiler and heat.’ The recipe contains no fish, no herbs, and no olive oil.”
Yep, mine avoids skinning an eel and possible poisoning, but it does have fish, herbs, and olive oil. Bon appetit. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018