This briny fish stew was traditionally made by fishermen at the dock using whatever catch they were unable to sell that day. You can’t get much fresher than that!
For the soup
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/4 tsp. crushed saffron threads
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
- 2-1/4 cups coarsely chopped yellow onion
- 3 cups coarsely chopped leeks, white and green parts only
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped shallot
- 3-1/2 cups coarsely chopped fennel, tops and fronds separated and reserved
- 8 sprigs thyme
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 2 lb. medium tomatoes, quartered
- 2 whole red snapper (about 4 lbs.), one cut into 4-inch crosswise pieces, reserving head, and tail; and one filleted and cut crosswise into 6 to 8 equal pieces, head, tail, and bones reserved
- 2 lb. mussels
- 2 1-1/2 lb. lobsters, steamed, meat and shells separated and reserved
- 2 Tbs. double concentrate tomato paste
- 1/2 cup pastis or anisette
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 3-inch lemon peel
- 1 3-inch orange peel
- Kosher salt
- 1-1/2 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced in 1/2-inch slices
For the rouille
- 2 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- Kosher salt
- 3 slices cooked potato from the soup
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- Pinch saffron threads
- 1/2 cup warm soup base
- 1 cup coarsely chopped crustless baguette, about 1-1/2 oz.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Small mint leaves, for garnish, optional
- Chives cut into 1-inch pieces, for garnish, optional
- Fleur de sel
- 6 to 8 toasted baguette slices (about 1/2 loaf) for serving
Make the soup
- In a large stockpot warm oil over medium heat, about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add saffron and chili flakes and continue to cook, about 1 minute. Add the onion, leeks, shallot, and fennel. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, but not color, about 4 minutes. Add half of thyme, bay leaf, half of the tomatoes, the 4-inch pieces of snapper and all the reserved heads, tails, and bones, 1 lb. of the mussels, the lobster shells, and the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute.
- Add pastis and wine, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add enough cold water to just cover the mixture, about 6 cups. Add the lemon and orange peels, 1 tsp. salt, the remaining thyme, tomatoes, and fennel tops. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.
- Remove and discard the fish heads, the tails, the lobster shells, the mussel shells, and any large fish bones. Transfer mixture to a high-power blender, and pulse in batches until broken up but not completely pureed. Pass each batch through a medium-mesh strainer, pushing on solids to extract maximum liquid. Discard the solids and rinse the strainer. Cover the strainer with cheesecloth, and strain again, pushing the soup through with the back of a spoon. Discard the cheesecloth. Return the soup to a clean stockpot over low heat. Season to taste with salt. Add the potatoes to the soup and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove to a plate, and cover lightly with foil to keep warm. Poach the remaining 1 lb. mussels and the remaining red snapper fillets separately in the broth until the shells just open and the fillets are cooked through. Transfer to separate plates and cover lightly with foil to keep warm.
Make the rouille
- On a work surface, mash the garlic, and 1/2 tsp. salt to a paste with the back of a chef’s knife. Transfer the paste to a medium bowl and use a fork to mash in the potato, cayenne, and saffron. Add the soup and the bread and continue to mash until well combined. Mash in the oil a little at a time until the mixture is fairly smooth, thick, and spreadable. Season to taste with more salt and cayenne.
- Put a dollop of rouille to one side in 6 to 8 medium shallow bowls. Divide the the mussels, the fillet, and the lobster meat among the bowls. Drizzle with olive oil. Ladle about 1-1/2 cups of the broth into each bowl, add a slice of potato, and garnish with the reserved fennel fronds, mint leaves, chives if using, and a sprinkle of fleur de sel. Spread some of the remaining rouille on toasted baguette slices and serve with the bouillabaisse.