A bouillabaisse day at Domaine Tempier* is a finely orchestrated celebration. Behind the scenes, the day begins with Lulu’s visit to Bandol to meet the fishing boats as they return with the night’s catch. When the catch has been unusually rich, the special fish that appear in that day’s bouillabaisse are noted in Lulu’s menu diary—in particular, the pastel-splashed, sinister-looking murène (moray eel), firm-fleshed, with a wild sea taste unlike any other, is always noted, as are Saint-Pierre (John Dory) and mérou (grouper). Always present are baudroie (anglerfish), rascasses (scorpion fish), vives (weevers), rouquiers (wrasses), and serrans (combers).
At least as important as the choice of fish to be presented are the elements that enter into the preparation of the “soupe,” the moistening agent in Lulu’s bouillabaisse. Fish merchants in the region carry crates, labeled “soupe,” of freshly netted, tiny rock fish, varying from less than one inch to three or four inches in length. It’s a pity that guests are never able to admire the extraordinary beauty of these fish before they are transformed into broth. Many of them duplicate, in miniature, the fish that are served whole with a bouillabaisse: thorny black rascasses and red rascasses; grotesque weevers with eyes popping from the tops of their heads; the lovely girelle, or rainbow wrasse, with a wavy, luminous ribbon of or-ange reaching from mouth to tail; other wrasses, bright green or multicolored, dappled or striped; and dozens of combers, among which the serran écriture, with blue and lilac scribbles against a red background, is especially striking. Tiny soles are often present, as well as the blunt-nosed slipper lobsters, called cigales de mer (sea cicadas), whose flesh is the sweetest of all the crustaceans’. Also for the soup, kept in closed crates to prevent their escape, are favouilles—scuttling green shore crabs—whose distinctive spicy, peppery flavor will be recognized immediately by lovers of soupe de poissons or bouillabaisse. Slices of conger eel are usually served with a bouillabaisse, but because its flesh is thickly threaded with fine bones, Lulu prefers to cut up the conger and lose it in the soup. When serving the soup on its own, as a first course, she adds parboiled fresh egg noodles to the strained, reheated soup, dosed with saffron, and sometimes serves giant shrimp tails, grilled in their shells over wood embers, at the same time.
Part of the magic of Lulu’s bouillabaisse depends on beautiful weather and guest participation in the final steps of its prepara-tion. The table is set on the long terrace in front of the house. Vin rosé and tapénade crusts are served on the terrace while François prepares a fruitwood fire in the nearby garden path. Mortars of rouille are placed at the table, and the fish—some whole, others sliced or filleted—aglint in their saffron-olive oil marinade, are presented on a huge platter to be admired. The soup is poured into an antique copper caldron, gleaming inside, blackened on the outside from the smoke of a hundred bouillabaisse fires; it is placed on a tripod over the fire, and everyone gathers around, glass in hand, to watch the ritual addition of potatoes, mussels, angler-fish, rascasses, and the other fish, in that order. “Maybe the mussels are overcooked,” says Lulu, “but it is the flavor that counts—I put them into the pot before adding the fish so they won’t get in my way when I serve the fish onto a platter. I don’t calculate different cooking times for the different fish because I use only firm-fleshed varieties—anglerfish and rascasses take a little longer than the oth-ers, so they go in first and come out last.” Shortly after taking these notes, I assisted at the preparation of a beautiful bouillabaisse in which the mussels were added after the fish. More recently, a cou-ple of octopus, cleaned and deep-frozen in advance to tenderize the flesh, unfrozen overnight, cut into small pieces, and simmered for an hour in a court-bouillon (which was then added to the fish soup base), were added to the boiling broth at the same time as the fish, with the mussels thrown on top. Never has a bouillabaisse been more sumptuous.
In the summer of 1973, as part of the supplementary pro-gram for my cooking classes in Avignon, I organized a bouilla-baisse lunch for my students in Carry-le-Rouet, near Marseilles, at L’Escale, a restaurant whose chef-proprietor, Charles Bérot, was famous for his bouillabaisse. Domaine Tempier offered the wine, and Lulu joined us for lunch. The 1972 rosé was poured to accom-pany a variety of little seafood hors d’oeuvres, but at my request, the 1972 red, which would not be bottled for sale until a year hence, was put into bottles to wash down the bouillabaisse. The day was hot, and the tables were set on a high open terrace jutting out above the Mediterranean. At each table, an ice bucket was filled with cold water and a few ice cubes, to keep the wine cool but not over-chilled. Madame Bérot kept a sharp eye on the buckets, and as ice cubes began to disappear, she would order another handful to be added. Throughout the bouillabaisse service, the untamed red Tempier, still slightly prickly from its young residue of carbon dioxide, flowed at a constant 50° F. A 1968 Tempier, somewhat less cool, accompanied the cheese platter. It was the kind of day that assumes greater importance in retrospect: memory distilling the limpid blue sky and the intermingled scents of the sea air, the bouillabaisse, and the cool fruit of the wine into an abstract symbol of well-being. Lulu was ravished. With her next bouillabaisse, she insisted that Jean-Marie serve cooled red Tempier from the most recent vintage. The entire family was seduced by the alliance of the cool wine’s wild fruit, the saffrony bouillabaisse, and the garlicky rouille. For twenty years, Lulu’s bouillabaisse has been escorted by cool, young, red Tempier—with rosé always present for those who prefer it. The final line of her bouillabaisse recipe reads, “With this rich dish, which was once a poor fisherman’s dish (un plat de pauvre), drink either a very cool rosé or a young red, just as cool!” The tradition is maintained in Berkeley, California; in Chez Panisse Cooking, Paul Bertolli writes, “Fish and shellfish soup, as served at Chez Panisse, would not be the same if not accompanied by the wines (both red and rose) of the Domaine Tempier….”
Part of the bouillabaisse mystique resides in the persistent claim that no bouillabaisse is possible away from the Mediter-ranean coast or without the presence of rascasses. Last year, Lulu and Paule attended a week’s celebration of Domaine Tempier wines and Chez Panisse food in Berkeley. The week’s menus, the first of which featured “Bouillabaisse for Lulu,” were printed be-neath the title, “Domaine Tempier at Chez Panisse. Celebrating the Visit of Lulu Peyraud and Paule Peyraud. April 27-May 2, 1992.” Lulu’s verdict: “The bouillabaisse was marvelous! Of course it was not like mine, because the fish were not the same—they were all large fish that were filleted and cut into serving portions. The heads and carcasses were used to make the broth. It came as a surprise because I’m used to seeing whole fish in a bouillabaisse. Most of the fish were flown in from the East Coast, but they were absolutely fresh, the seasoning was perfect, the flavors wonderful! Paul not only pounded anglerfish livers in the rouille as I do, but he poached slices of anglerfish liver in the bouillabaisse; that was new to me—they were dé-li-cieux!”
Anglerfish, also called monkfish, which was practically un-known in America twenty years ago, is quite common on the market today. The texture of its flesh is often compared to that of lobster. When filleted, the cartilaginous central bone, chopped small, and the trimmings and head, chopped to pieces, are pre-cious additions to the fish broth (the heads are in such demand in the south of France that fishmongers no longer give them away), and the large, pinkish-beige liver, whose mysterious flavor and sumptuous texture characterize Lulu’s rouille and all of her fish stuffings, is as velvety and voluptuous as foie gras—no other liver can replace it. Because fish merchants often receive anglerfish al-ready beheaded, gutted, and skinned, heads and livers may have to be ordered in advance.
Oily fish do not mix well in a bouillabaisse, but most fish in American waters are suitable. Some of the best, among them John Dory and conger eel, are rarely marketed, probably because any fish of unusual appearance is considered suspect by the fishing industry. Any fish called rockfish, rock cod, redfish, ocean perch, sea perch, red snapper, sea trout, ocean catfish, scrod, tom cod, croaker, or drum is good bouillabaisse fish; grouper, porgy, tautog, cunner, spot, black bass, striped bass, sheepshead, halibut, hake, haddock, sea robin, sculpin, skate wings, and stargazers are but a few of the other possibilities.
Lulu does not like to mix up too many scents and flavors. Be-cause the principal herb is fennel, thyme and bay leaf are typically absent from her bouillabaisse (when describing a fish prepara-tion, she often indicates “lots of herbs”; if asked “which herbs?,” the answer is invariably, “… well, fennel, of course!”). Wild fennel (Foeniculum officinale) grows everywhere in the south of France. In spring, the tender new shoots are used; in summer, the fresh green stalks; and in autumn, the tall flowered stalks are collected, cut or broken into short lengths, tied in bundles, and used throughout the winter (cultivated Florence bulb fennel does not have a suf-ficiently pronounced flavor to replace wild fennel). As for dried orange peel, a common element in most bouillabaisse bouquets, Lulu is categorical: “Dried orange peel is necessary in a Provençal daube and it gives a wonderful tang to a red-wine game stew, but I would never use it with fish.” Carrots, on the other hand, ab-sent from other Provençal fish soups, always count among the aro-matic elements in Lulu’s fish soup, whether it be served as such or as a base for bouillabaisse. Other distinguishing characteristics are lots of garlic, not too much tomato, and the caress of wood smoke, a memory of the original fisherman’s bouillabaisse cooked over a driftwood fire at the seaside; when weather prevents the bouillabaisse from being finished out-of-doors, François prepares the wood fire in the kitchen fireplace.
With the exception of the anglerfish, all the fish in Lulu’s bouillabaisse are whole. She counts twenty minutes from the time the potatoes and mussels are added. Because most of the filleted fish will require shorter cooking, I have adjusted the timing.
2 lbs. anglerfish, filleted, trimmed of flabby membranes and belly flaps (reserve for soup), cut into eight sections
4 lbs. fillets of white-fleshed saltwater fish (see above), cut into serving portions
Marinade: 1 bouquet fresh wild fennel
or several sections fennel stalk (or substitute a large pinch powdered
Fish Soup: 4 tablespoons olive
cup fresh breadcrumbs (without crusts)
1/4 teaspoon saffron
Spread out the pieces of fish on a large platter, distribute the fen-nel branches among them or sprinkle with the powdered fennel seed, sprinkle with saffron, add the fragmented, crushed garlic and dribble with olive oil. Turn the fish around and over several times in its marinade, rubbing the surfaces gently until evenly yel-lowed with saffron and coated with oil. Marinate for a couple of hours, turning the fish over two or three times, while preparing the fish soup and the rouille.
Fish soup: In a large heavy pot, warm the olive oil over medium--low heat, add the onion and the crushed, unpeeled garlic cloves, and stir regularly with a wooden spoon until the onion is softened but not colored. Add the tomatoes, the broken-up heads and car-casses, and the cut-up conger eel, raise the heat to medium, and stir regularly, mashing with the spoon or a wooden pestle, until the contents of the pot are reduced to a coarse debris. Add the live crabs and stir until they turn red. Add water to cover generously, stir to make certain nothing is sticking to the pot, and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim the foam from the surface. Add salt, pepper, fennel, leek, celery, and carrots. Adjust the heat to maintain a light boil, lid ajar, for three-quarters of an hour. After five or ten minutes, remove the crabs, one or two at a time, to a marble mortar, pound them with a wooden pestle, breaking up the shells thoroughly, and spoon them back into the soup. Rinse out the mortar with a ladle of soup and pour it back into the pot.
Remove the bouquet of fennel and pass the contents of the pot, a couple of ladles at a time, through a fine sieve, into a large bowl, pressing with the wooden pestle to extract the liquid without pass-ing any of the debris into puree. Spoon the pressed debris from the sieve, discard it, and pour the sieved soup into another bowl before beginning again. When all the soup has been passed, rinse the sieve, making certain that no tiny fish bones remain, and pass the soup again, loosely, shaking the sieve gently, to separate the broth from any pureed solids or fish bones that may have passed through the first time.
Rouille: Put the breadcrumbs into a bowl and, with a fork, mash them with the dissolved saffron, adding a bit more fish soup, if necessary, to form a loose paste. In a mortar, pound the cayenne peppers to a powder with a wooden pestle. Add the coarse salt and the garlic, pound to a paste, add the anglerfish liver, and pound to a consistent pommade. Add the egg yolk and the saffron-bread paste and turn briskly with the pestle until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Mount it like an aioli, adding the oil in a thin trickle to the side of the mortar while turning constantly with the pestle.
Reheat the fish soup, dissolve the saffron in a ladle of boiling soup and stir it in. Add the potatoes, onion, tomatoes, garlic, and fennel and return to a boil. Five minutes later, add the mussels, then the marinated pieces of anglerfish. Five minutes later, add the remaining fish and boil for ten minutes longer (boiling produces a liaison between the broth and the olive oil).
With a large, flat, slotted spoon, lift the pieces of fish onto a large heated platter, serve the mussels and potatoes onto another platter (never mind if they get a bit mixed up), and ladle part of the broth into a heated soup tureen, leaving the remainder over heat for second servings. At the table, smear garlic crusts thickly with rouille, place a couple of crusts in each soup plate, and pour a ladle of soup over them. In separate plates (or the same ones), serve potatoes, mussels, and fish; pass the rouille and the broth.
*A wine estate in the Bandol region of the south of France, run by the Peyraud family: Lucien and Lulu and their sons, Jean-Marie and Francois; Jean-Marie’s wife, Catherine, shares the work in the office, and Francois’s wife, Paule, travels all over France, placing Domaine Tempier in distinguished restaurant cellars.