Island Bites: A nice night for Peconic Bay bouillabaisse

DAVID LAPHAM PHOTO | Nothing warms the winter soul like a bowl of bouillabaise, served with a toasted baguette topped by a little aioli.

DAVID LAPHAM PHOTO | Nothing warms the winter soul like a bowl of bouillabaise, served with a toasted baguette topped by a little aioli.

An easy and elegant dish to serve in the dead of winter, bouillabaisse (fish stew) has its roots in the southern French city of Marseilles.

Historically, fishermen would sell the best parts of their catch at the market and then save whatever was left over for their own families — and from that came bouillabaisse. 

The day I made it for this column, I used scallops, squid, cod and clams. But you can use any combination of available and even less expensive fish such as sea robin and porgy. Between Bob’s here on the Island, the Southold Fish Market and P.E. & D.D. Seafood in Riverhead, you’ll have no problem finding fresh fish and shellfish for your version. Southold Fish Market also sells excellent fish stock if you don’t feel like making it yourself!

STEVE BAGINSKI PHOTO | Chef David Lapham

STEVE BAGINSKI PHOTO | Chef David Lapham

The distinguishing taste of bouillabaisse comes from the addition of saffron. Made from the dried stamens of the crocus flower, saffron adds a subtle, fragrant flavor. It’s an expensive ingredient compared to other spices, but a little goes a long way. Bouillabaisse is traditionally served with a slice of toasted baguette spread with “rouille,” a mixture of egg yolks, potatoes, bread, garlic and oil. But I find that a simple combination of mayonnaise and garlic works just as well. Another great thing about bouillabaisse is the fact that you can make the stew base in advance and either refrigerate or freeze it until you’re ready to cook the fish and serve.

To drink, consider a buttery, oak-aged chardonnay to create a flavor contrast. Bouillabaisse also works perfectly well with sauvignon blanc, champagne or even beer.

Don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected] with any questions on this recipe or cooking in general. I’d love to hear from you!

Bon appetit!

Bouillabaisse

Serves 4
Cooking Time: About 45 minutes

The base

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 fennel bulb, chopped with fronds reserved

1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, sliced

2 cups white wine

2 cups fish or seafood stock

1 cup crushed canned tomatoes

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon saffron

The seafood

1/3 pound little neck or cherrystone clams

1/3 pound cod, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/3 pound bay or sea scallops (cut in half if using sea scallops)

1/3 pound squid, cut into 1 inch pieces

The spread

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2 garlic clove, very finely chopped

Pinch or two cayenne pepper or paprika

8 slices baguette, toasted

In a large pot, heat olive oil and add fennel, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Cook vegetables over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Do not brown. Add white wine, fish stock and tomatoes. Cover and reduce liquid by a third, about 25 minutes. In a separate cup, combine saffron and a small amount of the hot liquid and set aside. Make your garlic mayonnaise by combining mayonnaise, garlic and cayenne pepper or paprika. Toast the baguette slices and spread the mixture on each. Set aside. Add the clams to the liquid. When they begin to open, add remaining seafood. Add saffron mixture.

To serve, ladle stew into bowls and garnish with fennel fronds and two baguette slices per bowl.

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