My great great grandparents, Bienvenue and Clarice Augier, lived in the south of France and eventually sailed from the seaport of Marseilles to southern Louisiana with their young daughter Ernestine Matilde, who was my great-grandmother. I am told that Clarice never learned to speak English and that Ernestine (who lived with my grandmother when I was born) had a prie deau in her room on which she knelt to pray everyday. Other than those facts, I know little about my French ancestry. I have been to France only once and do not speak the language. But both language and French cuisine call my name. I love bouillabaisse, which is simply a hearty seafood stew which was something fishermen living in and around the seaport of Marseilles created by cooking whatever fish and shellfish had not been sold at the market by day’s end. There are many versions, some much fancier than this, but all seem to have similar seasoning with fennel, thyme, bay, and saffron. I have used other recipes over the years, but I adapted mine from one found in a lovely healthy food book called Canyon Ranch Cooking by Jeanne Jones. There are two Canyon Ranch health spas. They must serve delicious food if we can judge by their cookbook.
I prefer to serve this by pouring a ladle full over a piece of crusty bread placed in the bottom of the bowl, but it works well served with French bread on the side.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped (at least 1 1/2 cups)
1 large or several small leeks, white ends only, sliced very thin
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 or 2 Bay leaves
1 handful fresh basil leaves, julienned
1 teaspoon dried thyme (I use Penzey’s French thyme)
1/4 teaspoon dried fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads which have been dissolved in a little chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound firm white fish, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled and cleaned
Sprigs of fresh thyme for garnish
slices of French bread
Saute onion, leek, and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add all other ingredients except the fish and shrimp, garnish and bread. Mix well and simmer covered for 10 to 15 minutes. add the fish and shrimp and simmer another 3 to 5 minutes, until fish and shrimp are cooked through. Serve in large bowls over crusty bread slices or with bread on the side. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.
Cook’s note: This is a good dish to make with leftover fish if you make it the very next day. I like to keep shrimp in my freezer (shelled, deveined, and cooked) to use, but fresh is always best. If you do not wish to use wine (or don’t have any on hand), substitute 1 cup of chicken stock plus 2 Tablespoons of any good white vinegar. Adjust seasonings to taste. We like some extra heat added, so I add a chopped hot pepper from the garden or a splash of Tabasco.