The best Bouillabaisse is served at the house of a fisherman here in coastal Provence, Jean Canale, who lives near the old salt marshes of Hyères. I met Jean through Elisabeth Tempier, a friend who writes on artisan fishing issues.
We got together with 20 friends and had a great bouillabaisse in Jean’s garden, while enjoying the heat of this late Indian summer (the real summer seemed to miss us altogether…). Jean Canale prepares his bouillabaisse in a huge iron pot over a wood fire.
The fish that go into Bouillabaisse vary in species and size, and usually include all kinds of rock fish, plus some larger firm fish like conger eel, angler fish, gurnard, weever, john dory, scorpion fish, etc.. Some of the fish are decidedly weird, like the Uranoscope or white rascasse, with eyes on the top of its head looking upward, and horns.
Preparing a Bouillabaisse is all about precise timing. For one, you need to have a large variety of rock fish to create the soup base, and the more species you put in, the better it tastes; these are cooked for a long time with olive oil, garlic, onions, potatoes, saffron, tomatoes and fennel. Then you need to add some larger fish with firm meat, and you need to know exactly when to put them in the soup so that by the time it is ready they are all cooked to perfection.
The fish are served first, while they are hot, and the soup is served afterwards, with croutons and rouille. The result is quite astounding, especially considering how mediocre a restaurant Bouillabaisse is, even in places reputed to be authentic. There are so many tastes happening that the dish is almost as complex aromatically as some of the wines we had. One of the friends present is a wine merchant, Jean Philippe Héaumé, who happened to be in the area, and he decided to match the bouillabaisse with some great wines from the Loire.
For starters, along with green and black tapenade and some freshly caught mussels from Cartoux, we sipped bubbly Vouvray Brut, Clos Naudin Réserve 2002, Philippe Foreau, a special reserve recently disgorged and seriously perfectly comparable to a vintage Champagne (minus the price).
The bouillabaisse was accompanied by three great Loire wines:
Jasnières, Prémices 2008, Eric Nicolas
Savennières, Le Bel Ouvrage 2008, Damien Laureau
Saumur, Clos de Guichaux 2008. Romain Guiberteau
Apple tarts concluded the meal along with some very fine sweet Vouvray moelleux, 2008, by François Pinon, as always with great Chenin the sweetness is perfectly tamed by the acidity of good Loire wines.