La bourride, by Rowley Leigh

Chez Michel, opposite the public beach in Marseille, has a tatty and unprepossessing exterior. It boasts that it’s the home of the one true and authentic bouillabaisse, but Chez Fonfon around the corner claims the same thing, as do half the restaurants scattered around the streets of Le Vieux Port. None is cheap and the less expensive — say €30 a shot — look highly suspect. Chez Michel, however, has the reputation of having the best bouillabaisse — of the non-deconstructed sort — and so we felt it had to be looked at.

The place was empty when we walked in and we prepared to bemoan the decline of traditional restaurants in favour of the pizzerias and junk-food joints that proliferate even in Marseille. We looked at the menu, decided to take a sharp left turn and ordered the bourride instead of the bouillabaisse. A huge sea bass, accompanied by a chunk of conger eel and a couple of weaver fish, were presented for our approval. We nodded our agreement and munched on some prawns and anchovies.

A little side table was placed alongside us. A hotplate was installed. Bowls of garlic toast, little pots of aioli and rouille appeared and then a dish of plainly boiled potatoes. A tureen of broth was set upon the hotplate. The fish materialised and was filleted and presented to us. We looked around and realised the place was completely full.

Every table was busy slurping bouillabaisse, except for two Englishmen in a delirium of fish, garlic and Cassis blanc. We may have looked like something out of a Bateman cartoon but we were more than content.

La bourride

Good prime fish are required but unlike bouillabaisse this mix is pretty open. Sea bass and monkfish, red mullet (or gurnard) are most commonly used. Many will want to cook the fish in fillets, which is fine, but remember it is easier to overcook fillets than whole fish, and fish on the bone simply tastes better. The cream and potato flour are a cheat, but a necessary one. Enough for eight.

Ingredients

The stock
1kg white fish bones
1 leek
1 onion
3 clovesgarlic
2 strips lemon peel and orange peel
A few sprigs thyme
1 tbs black peppercorns
250ml white wine
Monkfish, hake and red mullet
  1. Rinse the bones and place in a large saucepan. Add thinly sliced leek, onion and garlic, together with the peels, thyme and peppercorns. Add the wine and two litres of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Strain into a large, shallow sauté pan.
Aioli
6 large cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
6 egg yolks
Juice of half a lemon
375ml olive oil
  1. Pound the garlic with the salt into a fine paste in a pestle and mortar or a blender. Add the egg yolks and then the lemon juice and pound in turn. Slowly add the oil very slowly at first — as though making a mayonnaise, gradually adding more to get a thick emulsion.
  2. Add a few drops of cold water if the mixture gets too thick. Check for seasoning and divide into two, placing half in a small bowl to take to the table and the remainder into a medium saucepan.
Toast and potatoes
1 baguette
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1kg firm new potatoes
  1. Cut the baguette into half-centimetre rounds, sprinkle with plenty of olive oil and toast in the oven to a good golden brown.

    Rub the toast with the garlic while still warm and season with a little salt.

  2. Peel the potatoes, cover with cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until tender, drain and keep warm. They need no adornment but for a little sprinkling of salt.
The fish
750g monkfish, on the bone
750g hake, on the bone
600g red mullet, on the bone
1 tsp potato flour or cornflour
125ml double cream
  1. Bring the stock to a simmer. Drop the monkfish and hake into the stock. Bring back to a simmer and let the fish poach gently for about 20 minutes — the timing depends very much on the thickness of the fish — before adding the red mullet, which will take less than 10 minutes to cook. With a skewer, check each fish is done and gently lift out when cooked. Cover with foil and keep warm, preferably in a low oven (120C).
  2. Whisk the potato flour and cream in a small bowl. Pour this into the stock and whisk vigorously while you bring to a simmer. Cook gently for a couple of minutes to allow the mixture to thicken. Off the heat, very gradually whisk this mixture into the aioli in the saucepan. Place on a low heat and stir continually until this mixture starts to thicken slightly, just like a custard. Remove from the heat immediately and decant into a tureen or serving bowl.
  3. Take the fish, potatoes, toast, aioli and broth to the table. Divide the fish on soup plates and ladle a little broth over each. Guests happily munch fish, croutons and potatoes, occasionally helping themselves to more broth and the odd spoonful of aioli.
Wine

A Provençal rosé is the usual choice for bourride and a good one is an excellent accompaniment.

A bone-dry Provençal white such as Cassis, Bandol or Bellet are every bit as appropriate.

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