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Well, it’s been a while.  I could regale you with tales of alien kidnappings, that stint in jail, how I was trapped in a giant ice block for, well, months now BUT SURVIVED thanks to that thing where if you get really cold you don’t die like Mary Mastiantonia in The Abyss. But I won’t. Just too hectic for a food blog. Suffice it to say, I’m glad to be alive and I’m enjoying life with Tom and the girls (yes, we have two now) in the new house post-rennovation (oh yes, we’re in).

So anyway,  it was ‘date night’ a couple of Friday’s ago. We’re supposed to go out on a date night but sometimes we subvert the rule and decide it would just be cheaper, more practical and, let’s face it, a whole lot more delicious if we just stayed in and cooked. And we’re also trying to clear the freezer for a new meat delivery which I will no doubt come back to at some stage (assuming no more ice-block incidents).  We had some fish stock that needed using up. Not just any old stock – stock created from the shells and heads of wild, fresh river crayfish. Even frozen it had a gorgeous rich tone to it and we’ve been waiting for the right moment to use it.

And Bouillabasse it was. Well, sort of. Not exactly authentic. More like a ‘fisherman’s stew’. As usual, whenever I’m doing something for the the first time, I google endlessly to research every which way of doing it. In the end, partly from sheer internet-meandering-induced exhaustion, but mostly because I love it, I came back to a family recipe on Tom’s side. It’s how I first encountered Bouillabasse and feels like the original. A “proper” Bouillabasse is terribly specific and involves cooking it on the dock IN MARSEILLE to the tune of Mermaids singing at dawn and uses revolting-sounding things like eels and “dog fish”. The soup base is blended and the fish is served on the side. In just about all versions, a rouille with baguette is served. We were true to this at least.

So, here’s our version and it’s very simple. A gorgeous broth of fish stock, fennel, onion, tomatoes, saffron and flavoured with bay and orange strands and whatever fish looked good at the van on Wednesday, poached within. Because we had the stock in the freezer already, the whole thing felt effortless and delightful. The homemade rouille was outstanding. All washed down with a gorgeous bottle of Pouilly Fume.

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Fish Stock: We simply boiled up a load of lobster shells and and heads with fennel, onion, carrot, bay leaf and some old parsley from the fridge. Simmered for one hour in the pressure cooker (outstanding for creating intense flavour), strained, frozen. Bosh.

Bouillabasse

Soften 1 onion,1 carrot,1 leek, 1/2 fennel in olive oil.  Add the flesh of 1 chopped beef tomato, a few strands of saffron, a bay leaf and orange peel (a few strands).

Add another glug of olive oil and bring to the boil then pour boiling fish stock onto the mixture, stirring for a couple of minutes.  The reason to add boiling stock is because it has the effect of thickening the soup and making it sort of emulsify.

Then add the fish. Be sure to do this in stages. So as not to overcook. I had some nice, dense cod (I know, but I live in a landlocked county and you’ve got to get what you can), some mussels and cockles, squid and a few prawns. I added them in that order and took the soup of the heat as soon as the squid turned white and the prawns, pink.

Rouille

Now this is more of an authentic Marseille recipe, adapted from a recipe on the website beyond.fr. You basically take a lump of bread and mix it with chili, garlic, oil, egg yoke…

In a pestle and mortar crush a chopped/de-seeded small chili, a few cloves of garlic, some sea salt and a generous glug of olive oil. You’re aiming to create a thick paste.

Then, get a large handful of bread and crumble it up (or make breadcrumbs in a whizzer). Add a small spoonful of the broth to the bread and create a tight ball, squeezing out any liquid. Then, add your paste to a largish bowl and pop the bread ball in with the egg yoke. Whisk like buggery, all the while adding olive oil,  til you get the consistency of shop-bought mayonnaise or rouille. Needless to say, unless you have at least three arms, or are particularly good with your feet, it’s helpful to have a second person for this part. We served the rouille in a small dish with bread on the side. A really delicious recipe and much easier to pull together than it sounds (especially once you recover from the bread-ball part. That was a surprise to me).