“Bouillabaisse was a dish we served traditionally at the Restaurant Schlossli Woerth in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, where I worked as a Chef de Partie in the early 1990s,” says Dr. Stefan Ryll, CEC, CCE, AAC, associate professor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in Manchester, New Hampshire. “At the restaurant, the lobster for the bouillabaisse was always caught from a life fish tank displayed in the center of the restaurant. This was [always] an entertaining experience for the customers. So creating this dish two ways brought back many wonderful memories, but also gave us the opportunity to make something classic modern and stylish again.”
As January is a perfect time to enjoy a hearty, comforting bowl of soup (as a matter of fact, it’s National Soup Month) Ryll teamed up with Alyssa Krauss and Sierra Erickson, both senior culinary arts students at SNHU, to create two versions of this classical dish.
“The combined aromas of the olive oil, fennel, leek, garlic, tomato, saffron and lobster stock signifies a very unique and delicious tasting flavor combination,” says Ryll. “I also like that you can use any fish or shellfish combination to create the final dish.”
Ryll suggests fresh halibut, shrimp and lobster for the classical version of bouillabaisse. But if you don’t have those, different types can be substituted. Look for firm fish for fillets such as sea bass, red mullet, haddock, halibut, cod, conger or red porgy. For the shellfish, try different variations of clams and mussels.
“The flavor combination of the classical dish are very distinctive. The magical synthesis of fish, fennel and saffron creates an unparalleled taste of lusciousness and comfort. Halibut is a delicate fish with a meaty and succulent flavor,” Ryll says. “The rouille adds some nice spiciness to dish while the grilled garlic bread provides the perfect crunchy side texture. The orange zest and the chopped parsley add a fresh brightness to the plate and with this bring the whole classical dish together.”
- “Be careful not to add to much saffron in the beginning to the broth. Saffron is a very strong spice, and can easily overpower the flavor of the entire dish.”
- “It is also important not to overcook your seafood as you simmer it in the broth.”
- “The Bouillabaisse broth can be made ahead of time and kept under refrigeration for several days. Make sure to bring it up to a solid boil to kill any bacteria that may form.”
Krauss has varied experience in a large-production bakery, an upscale catering company, a tapas-style restaurant, a student-run bakery and a student-run cafe. Erickson has worked as a chef for an upscale catering company and in a student-run restaurant in Florence, Italy while spending a semester abroad. Together, the two decided that modernizing the techniques used to make a classical bouillabaisse would bring this centuries-old recipe into the modern era.
“Breaking down the factors that are a part of a dish (ingredients, textures, colors, etc.) can help recreate a whole new dish. … For example, traditional bouillabaisse is served with a slice of baguette. Instead, we made a focaccia tuile which gives the place a crunch factor and a different shape on the plate,” they say. “We used octopus in our dish because it is a seafood that is up and coming in the restaurant industry and gives a more modern feel to our dish.”
Creating a new beauty with this dish was the young chefs’ favorite part. “People eat with their eyes first and knowing this helped us design how we wanted our plate to look. [T]he underwater scene came from a vision we had in our heads of the colors we wanted to showcase. Knowing the type of height and flow that we wanted helped us pick out the ingredients we used. We knew mussels would serve as a base to build height for a more focal piece of seafood. We chose halibut as a fish option because we thought the white would contrast the colors from the dark, almost black, mussels and the purple octopus. It would also serve as a good base for the green carpaccio to stand out.”
“This dish has a variety of textures,” Erickson and Krauss say. “The dehydrated fennel and focaccia tuile add a crunch element. The lobster saffron sauce is smooth, whereas the lobster butter sand melts in your mouth. The halibut is light and flaky, however the leek carpaccio on top of the halibut adds a crisp bite. The octopus and mussels have more of a chew to them compared to the halibut.”
- Choose the seafood you prefer to use and build from there. “There are so many versions of bouillabaisse. It is a great dish to use your imagination on.”
- The main mistakes that could be made have to do with cooking the seafood if you are unfamiliar. The octopus if overcooked will be very chewy. If the halibut isn’t seared correctly, it may not look as appealing and there will not be that crunch you expect from a good sear on a piece of fish.”