Gourmet secrets: bouillaibaisse milkshake!
Yes, you read that right! This is chef Lionel Levy’s interpretation of the classic Marseille fish stewbrunch Updated: Sep 29, 2018 21:25 IST
Always in search of a dish which embodies the soul, charm and history of people and a place, I find myself in Marseille in the south of France. I have in the past tasted various renditions of their iconic fish stew, Bouillaibaisse, and I have heard much about chef Lionel Levy’s interpretation. I’m also keen to experience the Hotel Dieu, “the” hotel to stay in Marseille, over which Levy presides as executive chef.
Seen as the leader of the “New Mediterranean cuisine”, Levy learned his craft from internationally acclaimed chefs such as Éric Fréchon and Alain Ducasse. He moved to Marseille in 1999 and gained a Michelin star in 2005 for his first restaurant. His menus showcase local, seasonal produce with a selection of the best freshly-caught fish from the Vieux-Port served simply, market garden vegetables grown locally and in his intimate garden at the hotel. Inventive, inquisitive, playful and always eager to discover new recipes, his version of the stew stumped me at first. He calls it a “milkshake”!
Seeing the light
Marseille has in recent years been on a rampage to change its somewhat seedy image, renovating and rebuilding old docks and heritage buildings and opening new hotels and restaurants. It is the second largest city of France and now considered one of the country’s most exciting gourmet capitals. Marseille is a mini Paris by the sea, a softer version with grand boulevards, an Arc de Triomphe, and people who are happy to talk to strangers. I check into the 18th century Hotel Dieu, a former hospital completely refurbished and renovated and now run by InterContinental. It also happens to be right in the centre of town, a two minute walk from the Old Port and bordering the oldest part of the city, Panier. Its massive staircases, vaulted passages and magnificent terraces all bear witness to the former status of the building and it is now a classified historical monument. The vaulted passageways of the original Hôtel-Dieu were located to the front of the building. They were open because medical opinion in the 18th century held that fresh air was vital for the sick. Today, these passageways have been transformed into private terraces overlooking the Vieux-Port and the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica. In 1993, the last patients left the Hôtel-Dieu. It closed its doors definitively in 2006 before work started as a hotel.
I look out from my spacious terrace to see a pink sunset over the church of Notre Dame de la Garde in the distance (a neo-Byzantine styled Basilica which locals believe protects the city). I begin to understand what painters and photographers refer to when they talk about the ‘light’ in the south of France.
Playing with fish
The next morning, I trot off to the picturesque Old Port in phase one of my search for the perfect bouillabaisse – the fish. There’s no one in sight. The waiters at the nearby café, pastis still on their breaths from the night before, inform me that the fisher folk arrive only at 10 am! I go back later to find a sprinkling of fishermen and women under the Norman Foster sun shelter. This is no tourist trap but a lively little market with colourful characters. The word ‘bouillabaisse’, they tell me, means “to boil” and to “lower the heat”. So, as soon as the soup boils, you must lower the heat. It was a poor man’s fish stew made from fish nobody wanted - bony, often small and ugly but full of flavour because they come from the rocks, reefs and calanques (mini fjords) on this part of the coastline. The traditional fish for bouillabaisse are congre (a big fish with a slightly chewy flesh), rascasse (an ugly red fish with a big Neanderthal like mouth), rouget (a red fish), Saint Pierre (John Dory) or turbot and a small fish, which is deadly to fillet called vive.
There is much written about the ingredients that go into a bouillabaisse like Cognac and so on but I am reliably informed that all it takes is good olive oil, tomatoes, orange zest, saffron and fennel. The stock or ‘fumet’ is reduced and sieved and the fish is then added. Today the fish is served filleted at the table, and the soup or consommé separately with rouille, a mayonnaise made with dried chilli, on the side. This is Lionel Levy’s version in a glass. Stunning, authentic flavours and playful at the same time!
* Fish soup
2kg various rockfish
2 celery branches
2 garlic bulbs
Saffron to taste
Pastis to taste
1.5 liters of fish broth
3 egg yolks
½ garlic bulbs
800g of olive oil
Espelette pimento peppers (mild dry red chilli)
Saffron to taste
Olive oil to taste
Espelette pimento peppers
Fish soup preparation:
Shallow fry the fish in olive oil, when browned add the celery, carrots, onions, fennel and leeks chopped into 4 cm pieces.
Deglaze with pastis, add the quartered orange, the husked and halved garlic bulbs, the tomato concentrate, thyme and bay laurel.
Cover generously with fish stock to a level of 10 cm above the preparation. Bring to boil. Skim. Allow to simmer for 2 hours. Add saffron.
Strain the mixture using fine muslin.
Reduce the remaining stock by half: season to taste with olive oil, salt and Espelette pimento peppers.
Cook the potatoes in the fish soup with 4 garlic bulbs. When the potatoes are cooked, add the yolks of three eggs and whip with olive oil. Add some saffron, garlic, salt and Espellette pimento peppers.
Scrambled eggs preparation:
Cook the scrambled eggs in a frying pan till soft. Mix till smooth with mascarpone and butter.
Add some salt, and Espellette pimento peppers.
In a tall glass, pour an inch of the aioli sauce, then the egg mixture, and finally a couple of inches of the fish soup. Eat all three layers together with a spoon.
(Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.)
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on October 7.
From HT Brunch, September 30 , 2018
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First Published: Sep 29, 2018 21:23 IST