11 February 2009

The French Chef

On February 11, 1963, Julia child took to the airways of WGBH in Boston with The French Chef. It would not be hyperbole to state that airing The French Chef changed culinary history in America.

From a simple omelet to the exceeding complicated bouillabaisse, Child faced every task with effervescence and aplomb. The recipes from her PBS show were collected in her cookbook, The French Chef. Her recipe for bouillabaisse comes with a lengthy discussion of what fish one should use. The Marseillaise battle cry is: No rascasse -- No bouillabaisse! It's the culinary equivalent of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

Since rascasse is virtually unavailable in America, authentic bouillabaisse is in question. Julia Child outlined her feelings in her 2006 book, My Life in France.

" the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Provençal soup base - garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel - and, of course, the fish - lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish."
Without the discussion on fish, here is her recipe from The French Chef Cookbook:

Bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise

The Soup Base

1 cup sliced yellow onions
3/4 cup sliced leeks, white part only; or 1/2 cup more onions
1/2 cup of olive oil
A heavy 8-quart kettle or casserole
2 to 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, or 1 1/4 cups drained canned tomatoes, or ¼ cup tomato paste
4 cloves mashed garlic

Cook the onions and leeks slowly in the olive oil for 5 minutes without browning.

Stir in the tomatoes and garlic, and cook 5 minutes more.

2½ quarts water
6 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp thyme or basil
1/8 tsp fennel
2 big pinches of saffron
2-inch piece or 1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel
1/8 tsp pepper
1 Tb salt (none if using clam juice)
3 to 4 lbs. fish heads, bones, and trimmings including shellfish remains; or, 1 quart clam juice and 1 1/2 quarts of water, and no salt

Add the water, herbs, seasoning, and fish or clam juice to the kettle. Bring to boil, skim, and cook, uncovered, at the slow boil for 30 to 40 minutes. Strain, correct seasoning. Set aside, uncovered, until cool if you are not finishing the bouillabaisse immediately, then refrigerate.

Cooking the Bouillabaisse

The soup base
6 to 8 lbs. assorted lean fish, and shellfish if you wish, selected and according to directions at beginning of recipe

Bring the soup base to a rapid boil in the kettle about 20 minutes before serving. Add lobsters, crabs, and firm-fleshed fish. Bring quickly back to the boil and boil rapidly, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Then add the tender-fleshed fish, and the clams, mussels, and scallops. Bring back to the boil again for 5 minutes. Do not overcook.


A hot platter
A soup tureen or soup casserole
Rounds of toasted French bread
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Immediately lift out the fish and arrange on the platter. Carefully taste soup for seasoning, place 6 to 8 slices of bread in the tureen, and pour in the soup. Spoon a ladleful of soup over the fish, and sprinkle parsley over both fish and soup. Serve immediately.

At the table, each guest is served or helps himself to both fish and soup, placing them in a large soup plate. Eat the bouillabaisse with a large soup spoon and fork, helped along with additional pieces of French bread. If you wish to serve wine, you have a choice of rosé, a strong dry white wine such as Côtes du Rhône or Riesling, or a light, young red such as Beaujolais or domestic Mountain Red.

Bon Anniversaire to The French Chef.

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