It’s somehow less riotous than bouillabaisse, but no less flavourful, and the saffron/aïoli combination is rich and deeply satisfying. Some recipes call for a dice of vegetables, or chunks of carrots or leeks floating around in the stew, but I prefer to roughly chop everything and then strain it at the end.
We add a little orange peel to the base, and a good pinch of hot cayenne pepper on top.
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A bourride needs its accoutrements. Croûtons, spread with extra aïoli, make useful vehicles for excessive amounts of garlic, and are fun to float around on top of the stew, soaking up the sauce.
Waxy potatoes cooked in the broth offer some respite from the richness. The choice of fish, I think, is not as important as some make out, but monkfish is delicious here. Red mullet is also great, and we usually try to mix it with some cheaper things like gurnard, grey mullet, hake or bream. Mussels add a great depth of flavour.
For the stew
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 small head of fennel, roughly chopped
1 small leek roughly chopped into rounds
6 garlic cloves, peeled
A few parsley stalks
1 thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
2 strips of orange peel (use a vegetable peeler)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
A pinch of saffron
2 fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled and roughly chopped
1kg/2lb 4oz fish heads and bones, gills removed, washed well (gurnard and red mullet bones make the most delicious stews)
A glass of dry white wine
200g/7oz waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
For the aioli
1 fat or 2 small garlic cloves, peeled and green sprout removed
1 tsp fine salt
2 egg yolks
200ml/7fl oz/11/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
For the croutons
Some stale baguette
For the bourride
150g/5¼ oz monkfish, filleted weight
150g/5¼ oz red mullet, filleted weight
150g/5¼ oz gurnard, filleted weight
150g/5¼ oz hake, filleted weight
A handful of parsley, chopped
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fry the roughly chopped vegetables and the whole garlic cloves slowly in olive oil, with a good pinch of salt, until they are soft. This should take at least 30 minutes.
Throw the herbs into the pan, then add the orange peel, peppercorns, fennel seeds and saffron. Cook, stirring, on a low heat to bring out the flavours of the spices. When all is soft, sweet and aromatic, add the chopped tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes over a medium–low heat, then add the fish bones, followed by the white wine. Cover with water.
Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for around 30 minutes, or until the bones have given up their flavour. As the fish cooks, skim off any scum that gathers on the surface of the stew. Strain the stew into a clean pan, discarding the vegetables, herbs and fish bones to leave the liquid only. Next, cook the potatoes in the strained stew. Remove the potatoes, taste for salt, adjust with more salt if necessary and set aside.
For the aioli:
Make an aioli, but add an extra egg yolk at the beginning of the process. This helps to enrich the soup and makes it less likely to split. Add a little less lemon than usual. To make the aioli, crush the garlic with a good pinch of salt to a fine white paste in the mortar with the pestle. Add the egg yolks and emulsify as best you can. Add the olive oil very slowly, at first drop by drop, then in a slow stream. As the emulsion starts to thicken, add a few drops of lemon juice and a few of water, then continue with the oil. It’s important to add the lemon juice and water gradually to avoid splitting the mixture. When all the oil is incorporated, taste the aioli for salt and lemon juice to find a nice balance. You shouldn’t be able to taste any raw egg. If you can, the aioli needs more oil. If it looks a little too thick and ‘rebounds’ when you try to dip something into it, it needs another splash of water.
For the croutons:
Cut a stale baguette into thin rounds, rub with olive oil, and toast gently in a low oven until crunchy.
For the bourride:
Fillet and pin-bone the fish if it hasn’t been already done by your fishmonger. Cut each fish into four equal pieces and season with salt. Clean the mussels, washing well in cold water, scraping well, and discarding any that remain open when tapped.
Season the fish with salt and poach very gently in the hot stew, covered with a lid. If some pieces are thicker than others, add the thickest bits first, and the thinnest bits last. Just before the fish is cooked, add the mussels and the cooked potatoes. Test to see if the fish is cooked: insert a thin skewer into the thickest piece of fish. If the skewer passes through with no resistance, the fish is cooked. Make sure the mussels are open, discard any that remain closed.
Carefully scoop out all of the fish, shellfish and potatoes from the pan and divide between individual bowls or, better still, place on one large serving
platter. Keep warm while you finish the stew.
Take some aioli, about a tablespoon per person, and put it in a decent-sized bowl. Slowly whisk in a ladleful of the stock, until you have a thick aioli soup. Off the heat, pour this tempered aioli back into the hot fish soup, whisking furiously as you go. Return to a very low heat or a bain marie over some simmering water. Bring the bourride up to eating temperature slowly.
Take extreme care not to boil the soup at this stage or the emulsion will split. You are looking for a smooth, velvety finish to the soup. If the worst happens, whisk in a little more aioli using the same method, and this should smooth things over. Pour the bourride over the fish and potatoes, and sprinkle with chopped parsley and some cayenne pepper. Serve with the croutons and bowls of extra aioli.
Gurnard, lentils, peas and lardo
Gurnard is a great fish to pair with pork. It’s robust and earthy, with a flavour that can hold its own. Feel free to substitute any other fish, but I would advise nothing too delicate for this recipe. I love this dish with brill, turbot and monkfish, although these are all more expensive than gurnard. Some clams would be very delicious thrown into the roasting pan here too. The combination of sweet fresh peas with cured pork fat is a particularly nice one. Place the lardo on top of the hot fish at the last minute and it will drape, droop and melt seductively onto it.
2 small handfuls (100g/31⁄2oz) green lentils, French or Italian, such as Puy or Spello
1 bay leaf
1 small ripe tomato, fresh or from a can
A few glugs of olive oil
A splash of red wine vinegar
200g/7oz shelled fresh peas
2 thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
A piece of unwaxed lemon peel
4 gurnard fillets (150g/51 ⁄4oz each), pin-boned
A glass of white wine
1 tbsp chopped mixed soft herbs (parsley and tarragon, for preference)
4 thin slices of lardo di colonnata
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a pot, put the lentils, a bay leaf, the tomato and a glug of olive oil. Pour over enough cold water to cover well and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook slowly for around 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft to the bite but not mushy. You want them to still be covered with water when cooked. Do not drain. Add more olive oil, the red wine vinegar and salt to taste. Set aside and keep warm.
Preheat the oven to as hot as it will go. Boil the peas in a pan of salted water with a sprig of thyme, the 2 unpeeled garlic cloves and the lemon peel. They will only take 1 minute to cook. Drain and dress well with olive oil.
Season the gurnard with salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-based ovenproof pan. When it starts to smoke, add the gurnard, skin side down. Cook until the skin is golden brown, then turn over. Reduce the heat a touch, and throw in the second sprig of thyme. Pour in the white wine and a splash of cold water. Drizzle with olive oil and put the pan in the hot oven. Cook for around 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. To test that the fish is cooked, insert a skewer into the thickest part of the fish. If it goes through the flesh without any resistance, the fish is ready.
Once the fish is cooked, the wine and oil will have reduced to make a delicious sauce. Add a splash more water if the sauce is threatening to reduce to nothing and catch on the base of the pan. If it’s too watery, remove the fish while you bubble the sauce down to a better consistency.
Reheat the peas and throw in the chopped herbs. Arrange the lentils and peas attractively on individual plates. Put a cooked gurnard fillet on top and pour over the juices from the pan. Finally, drape slices of lardo sensually over each fish.
‘Sardine: Simple seasonal Provençal cooking’ by Alex Jackson, published by Pavilion Books. Image credit to Matt Russell