A Fine Kettle of Fish
Seafood soups and stews have certainly evolved in the culinary world. Some were initially developed by fishermen as a way to cook up a nourishing meal with whatever was left over from the day’s catch. Countries bordering the Mediterranean and other seas were blessed with a splendid array of fresh fish and seafood from which to create a fine kettle of fish.
Today, the world’s finest chefs create spectacular soups and stews from the bounty of the sea that command a premium price. Speaking of the world’s finest chefs, Restaurant Inc asked Chef Eric Ripert, co-owner of Michelin Three Star Le Bernardin in New York, to share his expertise.
Restaurant Inc: Bouillabaisse is considered by many connoisseurs to be the hallmark of a fine seafood stew. What are the steps to creating a fine yet simple bouillabaisse?
Eric Ripert: Making a traditional bouillabaisse can be a long and complex undertaking. I often prepare a simpler and slightly unorthodox version that still retains all the flavors – a little different but still paying homage to the fishermen of Marseille. Shrimp, striped bass, halibut, red snapper and lobster all work well. I like to poach each fish and shellfish separately in a velouté, so that each individual fish keeps its identity. When the seafood is cooked, I combine everything together in a broth. I use shrimp stock for that sea flavor; and, probably to the horror of a true Marseillais, I use chicken stock because I find it makes it all a bit lighter.
Restaurant Inc: Fish stock is the basis for many seafood soups and stews. Would you share an easy method to produce a flavorful, multi-purpose fish stock?
Eric Ripert: First, sweat fennel and leeks in oil until softened. Add fish bones, which have been soaking in salted water overnight, white wine and water. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste; let this sit and infuse for 30 minutes before serving.
Restaurant Inc: What are the essentials for a spectacular lobster bisque?
Eric Ripert: The key is to keep it classic and use quality ingredients. All you need is good quality lobster and good quality brandy, with a touch of Madeira. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel!
Many compelling seafood soups and stews have domestic origins, developed from whatever a particular region’s waterways provided. Cioppino originated in San Francisco, created by Italian fishermen who had settled there. It’s made with a combination of seafood pulled from the Pacific, including Dungeness crab, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, squid and fish. These goodies are simmered with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce. The dish is traditionally served with sourdough bread for sopping up every bit of the savory liquid. Clam chowder is an adaptation of the fish chowder recipes brought here from England and France. American pilgrims initially fed quahog clams to their livestock, until they realized that Native Americans ate them in abundance and considered them so valuable that the shells were used for wampum. Into the chowder they went, and the rest is history. Ye Olde Union Oyster House in Boston has served New England Clam Chowder since 1836. She Crab Soup was spawned in Charleston, and mixes blue crab with crab eggs for richness. Louisiana Seafood Gumbo combines shrimp and crab with okra, rice and hot sauce for a bit of heat. Consider cooking up your own fine kettle of fish to delight your guests!