I’m caught up in Julia Child fever — the movie Julie & Julia is opening this weekend and I’m not ashamed to say that I will be standing in line for a ticket. I’ve read that Meryl Streep has captured the best of what we love about Julia, from her warbly, exuberant voice to her healthy physical lust for her husband.
Thinking about my Julia Child moment had me plucking my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the shelf for a little sit-down time. I wanted to make a recipe from the book, but I had trouble conjuring that spark of hunger that usually makes me rush to the kitchen to cook.
Is it because some of the recipes in Mastering are stuck in a bit of a time warp?
Browsing through the book, I see recipes that speak to another time, a time before crème fraîche became a staple in the grocery store and we knew not to cook a piece of pork to within an inch of its life: cold chicken aspic decorated with slivers of canned pimiento, veal Prince Orloff and crepes filled with boiled, canned pineapple.
In my mind I draw a caricature of the 1960’s American housewife that Julia was writing for – a perfectly coiffed woman about to throw a dinner party in her sprawling suburban ranch house, wearing a bullet bra, Jackie O Chanel suit and smoking a long cigarette, like a character from the television show Mad Men.
But in between the thick, cream-colored pages of Julia’s tome are a multitude of other classic recipes and techniques that will never go out of style or fail to please – her precise directions for making homemade mayonnaise, perfect rolled omelets and puffy souffles are what make Mastering the Art of French Cooking stand alone on the cookbook shelf.
I chose to make the bouillabaisse (page 52) the other day, along with a rouille sauce to smear on crusty toasted bread.
Bouillabaisse is a Provençal fish soup, made in one essential stockpot, and Julia stresses the importance of keeping it simple; the broth is fortified with lots of seafood shells and trimmings (available for a few dollars a pound at your fish counter) and flavored with the typical flavors of the region: garlic, saffron, olive oil and tomatoes.
The soup was outstanding and I like how it had something for everyone at my table (picky children among them) – delicious broth, different kinds of fish and seafood, and a big hunk of bread to soak up every drop in the bowl.
The simplicity and authentic taste of this recipe is what Julia Child is all about to me. It also defines how I love to cook.
Julia says it best:
This is the kind of food I had fallen in love with: not trendy, souped-up fantasies, just something very good to eat….the ingredients have been carefully selected and beautifully and knowingly prepared. Or, in the words of the famous gastronome Curnonsky, “Food that tastes of what it is.” (from My Life in France)
julia child's bouillabaisse
Yield 6-8 servings
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup each chopped onion and leek
- 4 cloves smashed garlic
- 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped or 2 cups canned
- 2 1/2 quarts water
- Fresh herb sprigs: thyme, parsley, fennel fronds and basil (in any combination)
- 1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 3 - 4 pounds fish heads, bones, trimmings, shrimp shells
- 1 pound each: peeled shrimp (use the shells for the stock); wild cod, halibut or other flaky white fish, cut into large chunks; debearded, scrubbed mussels or clams
- Crusty bread, sliced
- 1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper
- 1 roasted hot red chile pepper or ground cayenne pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 small peeled garlic clove
- 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs or finely chopped almonds
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
- Fine sea salt, about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the soup:
- Heat the oil in a tall pot (I use an 8 quart stockpot) over medium heat; add the onion and leek and cook gently until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, water, herbs, saffron, salt and fish bones and shrimp shells. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that the broth bubbles slowly without boiling.
- Cook 30 minutes, then strain the broth into a large bowl or another pot and discard the solids.
- Pour the broth back into the stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, a minute or two. Add the rest of the fish and shellfish, cover and simmer until the mussels or clams open (this will just take a few minutes).
- Taste the soup and add more salt and freshly ground pepper if needed.
Make the rouille:
- Puree everything except for the olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil while processing to form a paste.
- Toast the bread and brush with olive oil.
- Serve the soup with bread and rouille.