Classic bouillabaisse calls for fish native to the Mediterranean, many of which—John Dory, weever, and rascasse—are hard to come by in the United States. However, many fish in American waters are suitable. Avoid oily fish when making your selection. Halibut, red snapper, and monkfish are particularly good choices. The addition of mussels and lobster is not traditional but very delicious. In the French manner, bouillabaisse is served in two courses: the soup first and then the fish. It is just as good when fish and soup are served together.
3 pounds fish heads and bone from nonoily fish, such as sole, flounder, snapper, or bass
2 leeks, white and light-green parts, plus dark-green leaves for bouquet garni
8 sprigs fresh tarragon
8 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 can whole plum tomatoes (28 ounces)(28 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 small carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 small onions, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
8 sun-dried tomato halves (dry, not packed in oil)(dry, not packed in oil)
1 teaspoon saffron strands
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons Harissa Sauce
6 dried fennel branches
Peel from 3 oranges
3 lobsters (1 1/2 pounds each)(1 1/2 pounds each)
3 pounds mussels, scrubbed and beards trimmed
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 medium baking potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled
4 pounds total fish fillets, such as halibut, red snapper, and monkfish, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup Rouille
1 loaf French bread, sliced into rounds and toasted
1. Remove gills and any traces of blood from fish heads. Thoroughly wash fish bones; cut them into lengths that will fit inside 12-quart stockpot. Set aside.
2. Cut leeks into quarters lengthwise; slice 1/4 inch thick. Place in a small bowl of cold water; let soak 5 to 10 minutes to remove dirt and sand. Drain; set aside.
3. Make a bouquet garni: Cut dark-green leek leaves into two 5-inch lengths. Arrange tarragon and parsley sprigs in center of one leaf. Place other leaf on top to enclose tarragon; tie with kitchen string.
4. Roast seeds: Heat a small skillet over medium heat until very warm. Add coriander, fennel, and cumin seeds to warm skillet. Cook, shaking pan or stirring frequently, until toasted and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Let seeds cool in a bowl.
5. Strain whole tomatoes over small bowl, reserving liquid. Remove seeds; place tomatoes in bowl with liquid. Set aside.
6. Heat oil in a 12-quart stockpot over medium heat; add reserved sliced leeks, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and paprika. Cook until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add reserved whole tomatoes and their liquid, sun-dried tomatoes, saffron, turmeric, harissa, roasted coriander, fennel, and cumin seeds. Stir to combine.
7. Raise heat to high, add reserved fish heads and bones, and cook, stirring frequently, until bones are opaque, about 5 minutes. Add fennel branches, orange peel, and bouquet garni. Add water to just cover bones, about 4 quarts. Bring to a boil; skim foam from the surface. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 25 minutes. Pour stock through a sieve into a large bowl; discard solids. Return liquid to pot.
8. Meanwhile, bring a large stockpot of cold water to a rolling boil. Quickly add lobsters; cook about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Drain lobsters; submerge in cold water to stop cooking. Drain again.
9. Place 1 cup reserved stock in a large saucepan. Add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil; add mussels. Cover; cook until mussels open, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard any mussels that do not open.
10. Meanwhile, place stockpot with stock over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes; cook until just tender, about 20 minutes. Add fish fillets; cook until opaque and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove tails and claws from lobsters (discard bodies or reserve for other use). Crack open claws and tail; add with mussels to pot; cook just long enough to warm. Serve with rouille and toasted French bread rounds. Serves 10 to 12.
Photo: Christopher Baker