Monday, January 15, 2007

Under the sea

I love seafood.

I love it.

I regularly seek out all kinds of fish, mollusks, and shellfish -- I love it cooked in every way -- fried, baked, grilled, broiled, and dried, just to name a few of my favorite preparations. If you've invited me to your house for dinner, you can bet that serving seafood will make me the happiest guest at your table.

Some of my favorite cooking memories are from preparing seafood. One year, about eight years ago, my father (an excellent cook and major source of my culinary knowledge) and I decided to make Bouillabaisse for New Years Eve dinner. It was a big splurge for us to spend so much money for a single meal, but my father loves food and loves me -- and I really, really wanted to make this complicated seafood soup.

We gathered every creature under the sea and slaved in the kitchen for hours. We made fish stock and roux from scratch, scrubbed the beards of the mussels, and created a timetable of cooking times for each ingredient (to do our best to keep anything from getting chewy). Dinner that night was transcendent. Up to our elbows in spicy broth and crab shells, Dad and I slurped victoriously. My less culinarily adventurous mother even managed to put away two bowls. Then I knew, Bouillabaisse was something special.

I've ordered it in restaurants countless times since that night, but I've never embarked upon making it myself again....until now.

It all started with a bag of defrosted scallops. We had taken them out to make a different meal, but had gotten distracted and ended up not using them. Those scallops were on my mind as I embarked upon Sunday's grocery shopping venture. Knowing that I needed to use them that night, I looked for complimentary ingredients. A few short minutes later, I found myself at a fresh seafood counter. King Crab Legs, Giant Shrimp, and whole Dungeness Crabs glistened in their icy lairs. The idea formed -- it was time to make Bouillabaisse again.

I didn't follow a recipe -- I went with the memory of how my father and I made it years ago and what I remembered of the taste of the subsequent bowls that I've had in restaurants. I trimmed the preparation time by not bothering with a roux and by not making fish stock from scratch. My version may not be the most authentic, but boy, oh, boy, is it good (and an impressive meal to serve company). Feel free to substitute any firm fleshed white fish, mollusk, or shellfish into this recipe. Enjoy!

Bouillabaisse -- serves 6-8


--2 tablespoons olive oil
--5 cloves garlic, finely diced
--2 bay leaves
--1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (more to taste. I like it salty/spicy -- I used 2-3 teaspoons)
--2 stalks celery, finely diced
--2 carrots, finely diced
--1 sweet onion, finely diced

--40 oz clam juice or fish stock
--1 bottle white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
--2 (14.5 oz) cans whole tomatoes
--2 (14.5 oz) cans tomato sauce
--1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
--1/2 lb diced red potatoes, skin on, roughly chopped (if you get the small red potatoes, cut them into fourths)

--1 pound King Crab legs, 2 whole Dungeness crabs, 1 lb scallops, 1/2 lb giant shrimp (this is just what I used this particular time. Feel free to add mussels and clams to this or just use any combination of firm white fish, shellfish, and mollusks that sound good to you. Be sure to use at least 3 different kinds of seafood.)


1) Sautee the garlic, bay leaves, Old Bay, celery, carrots, and onions in olive oil until the veggies begin to soften.

2) Add clam juice/fish stock, wine, whole tomatoes (and their juices), tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for around 12 minutes to boil off the alcohol of the wine and cook the potatoes.

3) Add your seafood in this order: frozen shellfish, fresh shellfish, frozen fish/shrimp/calamari, fresh fish/shrimp/calamari. Bring back to boil between each addition. 2 minutes after the last fresh seafood is added, turn off the heat.

To serve:

Pour lots of stock into each person's soup bowl. Add an assortment of the seafood. Serve with bread to sop up each last drop.
Also, it is a good idea to put a few empty bowls on the table for discarded shells.

Note: Don't be a piglet. I LOVE Dungeness crab and ate waaayyyyy too much of it during this meal. I was actually sick later that night (M and D were fine -- I was the only piglet). I still love Bouillabaisse, but I learned my lesson not to over indulge in shellfish.

Action shots:

D playing with a Dungeness Crab, just before we sat down to eat. I think the crab looks like it is about to break into a song & dance routine -- much like the monster perfoms "Puttin' on the Ritz" in Young Frankenstein. Anybody with me?

One of our bowls of discarded shells, post dinner. Honestly, I think this was my bowl. See, told you I was a piglet that night...

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