Our tribe, like many other Maine families, enjoys certain eating traditions every Christmas, like freshly baked croissants and Merry Christmas coffee cake for breakfast. Desserts feature the sinfully rich chocolate roll cake known as Bouche de Noel, and Grammy Nonie’s dense and fruity Plum Pudding served with hard sauce. Even though they are no longer with us, Grampy’s Lobster Stew, and Munsie’s apple pie are standards on the Christmas Eve menu.
This year I’m cooking a Maine seafood- inspired Bouillabaisse, as an alternative to the dairy-based lobster stew. The recipe for Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provencal fish stew, has its origins in the fishing families from the port city of Marseille. Created to utilize under-valued local species of more, bony, economical fish, adaptations of Bouillabaisse have been enjoyed for centuries.
The name Bouillabaisse refers to the method of preparation; ingredients are not added all at a time, rather a broth is first boiled and then each fish is added one by one, returning the broth to a boil, and lowering the heat to simmer to cook the fish.
Like the frugal Provencal families, the highlights of my stew include the economical seafoods of our state; lobster, shrimp, mussels and clams. The rich broth is spiced with saffron threads and prepared the day before. The key to this Bouillabaisse perfection is to understand how each fish cooks, add them one by one, and season the stew profusely with love.
Bouillabaisse (The Maine Way)
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 leek, washed, trimmed and sliced
- 1 piece celery, chopped or ½ cup celeriac chopped
- 1 bulb fennel, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- bouquet garni (tie together 3 or 4 stalks of parsley, some sprigs of thyme and 2 bay leaves)
- 3 threads of saffron
- 2 cups Provencal Roasted Veggie Pasta & Pizza Sauce
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 8 lemon wedges
- 2 cups fish stock or clam juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- 1 pound seafood (cooked lobster, raw Maine shrimp, white fish) cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 pounds clams and / or mussels in the shell, scrubbed
- On the day before serving, prepare the cooking liquid: Soften the saffron threads in a small bowl of hot water. In a large Dutch oven or heavy soup pot, on top of the stove, sauté the onions, leeks, celery and fennel in olive oil until soft, but not brown. Add the tomato sauce, garlic and bouquet garni. Stir in the fish stock, the saffron and liquid, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Refrigerate the liquid for cooking the seafood.
- To finish preparing: bring the tomato mixture to a boil. Add the fish pieces, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Add the clams and / or mussels. Cook until the shells are open. Stir in the Maine shrimp or lobster and gently cook until the shrimp turn pink and the lobster is heated.
- To serve, remove the bouquet garni. Transfer the seafood into individual heated bowls, and spoon over the sauce. Garnish the tops with chopped fresh parsley and lemon wedges if desired. Serve with lots of crusty garlic bread to sop up the sauce. To serve, remove the bouquet garni. Transfer the seafood into individual heated bowls, and spoon over the sauce. Garnish the tops with chopped fresh parsley and lemon wedges if desired. Serve with lots of crusty garlic bread to sop up the sauce.