Bouillabaisse–for one or two.

I’ve decided that one of the things that I should always have in my freezer is some good quality frozen fish.I like it packaged in individual servings so that I’m not trying to figure out what to do with the remains of a meal of fish. True, a bit of “leftover” baked, broiled, or even pan-fried fish can be turned into chowder…or tuna or salmon can be “re-purposed” into a salad. However, as much as I like fish, I’m not really into it as a leftover so it’s either get it from the fishmonger/supermarket, or in individual Cryovac packages. I do like variety in my fish so I usually check out the fish counter at my local Harris Teeter or The Fresh Market anytime I’m there–and if lucky, come home with something special like monkfish,  “manager’s special” tuna steaks, or wild-caught salmon. I do bring home the occasional tilapia (though with some thought to the downside of the farm-raised fish).

I love Chilean sea bass but that’s just not in the budget for everyday fish although my freezer does have some that I found at Costco. My favorite standby fish is cod. Firm, tasty white fish that lends itself to cooking in many different ways. Again, my favorite source is Costco.

I’m also fond of reading recipes–if only for inspiration rather than mindless to-the-letter following. Skulking through my inbox today I found an email from Bon Appétit that provided some interesting reading: recipes for cod–an interesting collection that all looked tasty.

One particularly caught my eye was poached cod with tomatoes and saffron–which brought to mind another cool-weather favorite that I don’t make all that often unless I’m making it for friends: bouillabaisse. Looking at this recipe made me wonder why I hadn’t made an effort to make mini-bouillabaisse for myself. It’s really just poached fish in a yummy tomato soup.

Though bouillabaisse typically has lots of different kinds of fish and seafood in it, I could certainly start with a single-serving size piece of cod and add a couple things. My Harris Teeter fishmonger is used to me ordering strange quantities, so probably wouldn’t bat an eye over two shrimp and a scallop–or maybe even a clam or two.

Taking this basic recipe for poached cod, I’d need to add a couple things to recreate the taste of the traditional bouillabaisse: most notably some fennel and pastis (licorice-flavored aperitif).

Mini-bouillabaisse

Ingredients

SERVINGS: 4
  • one 4-5 ounce skinless cod fillet
  • 2-3 shrimp
  • 1-2 scallops, clams, or muscles.
For the poaching liquid (from the Poached Cod with Saffron)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (with juice instead of adding water)
  • ¼ cup dry white wine (keeping this instead of using  fish stock)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Adding for traditional bouillabaisse flavor:

  • scant 1/4 cup diced fennel
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons pastis/Pernod (season to taste)
  • 1/2 medium onion or 1 small leek

Preparation

  • Sauté leek and/or onion in olive oil until softened.
  • Add garlic and sauté until fragrant but not browned.
  • Add tomatoes, wine water, fennel, bay leaves, pepper, and salt and simmer 10 to 15 minutes to let flavors meld. Reduce to a bare simmer.
  • Add cod filet and about 3 minutes later add the shrimp, scallop, clams, or mussels and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes (until the shrimp begin to curl, the scallop is opaque, and clams or mussels open.

If you want to bulk this up for extra hungry people, add cubed potatoes while the soup base is simmering and cook until almost tender; then add fish and continue as above. There is more soup/sauce here than is needed for one serving. Put it in the freezer for the next time you want bouillabaisse for one–you’ll have a quick meal–even if it is only a fish filet without the extra seafood.

A rather traditional accompaniment to bouillabaisse rouille, a garlicky “mayonnaise” to dollop into your bowl but I don’t always make it. Bouillabaisse can be eaten without it.  My favorite is the version by Anthony Bourdain with the roasted red peppers, egg yolk, and lemon, and lots of garlic. My most often-used version of  rouille uses a mayonnaise base as it’s faster and easier (from Saveur). Traditionally this would be made with soaked breadcrumbs or egg yolk and  other ingredients into which olive oil is emulsified–like mayonnaise. The mayonnaise version is easier for single-serving, solo cooking. (If there’s any left over it’s good on a sandwich or with other meat since I don’t use the fish stock in it.)

Rouille (my version)

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic mashed to paste with pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste

Preparation

  • Blend garlic, paprika, saffron to a paste with a few drops of water if necessary.
  • Add to the mayonnaise
  • Add the squeeze of lemon juice to taste, and salt to taste.
  • Thin with a few drops of water if necessary.

 

 

 

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Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish)

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I wandered past the seafood display in the newly opened Fresh Market.  There was Chilean sea bass (this name is really a marketing ploy)!  Or really, Patagonian toothfish.  It’s not pretty when as  the whole fish, but it’s luscious in the pan.  It’s also NOT cheap. And there are some that are considered “sustainable”, so I wasn’t being totally irresponsible–just fiscally irresponsible for my budget.  But it had been, literally, years since I’d eaten this luscious fish.  No will power effort here–I brought some home.

When I spend this kind of money for special fish (how about 7 ounce piece for $13.00–yes fiscally irresponsible, and the hock-your-soul category) I’m going to make very sure that I don’t screw up the cooking or seasoning. The texture is firm and meaty with large flake (in that respect somewhat like monkfish, tuna, or swordfish, but still has character of its own) and moderately oily so it doesn’t dry out during cooking. The flavor is often characterized as mild, buttery, somewhat like cod, halibut, or stripped bass;  not fishy in an undesirable way.  It’s the combination of flavor and texture that makes the toothfish so special–and nothing else can really be substituted if you want that particular flavor-texture combination.

If you’re looking at something called just “sea bass” it’s probably not toothfish–that’s usually sold as “Chilean”.  There are, however, a lot of fish sold as “sea bass”–white-fleshed, and lovely as well, but not as special, or expensive, as the toothfish, but still well worth trying.

The toothfish is oily enough to allow for lots of flexibility in method Picture of a cast from a 70kg Patagonian Toothfish of cooking–even broiling or grilling.  To keep it simple and let this special fish really shine, I took the really easy route: seasoned with salt and baked in a covered dish in a 425°F oven for about 25 minutes since it was a thick (almost 2 inches) piece of filet.  While that cooking was going one, I made a pan sauce of brown butter, shallots, and white wine, salt and pepper.

Efforts are being made to legally harvest toothfish, so before you buy check the source, but then break the budget and enjoy! (This image is from the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators, Inc.)

The wine? Well, another glass of my Alandra Portuguese white since this was a really simple preparation–and that’s a good all purpose white wine for causal use on a weeknight when I want a rather short glass.