Image credit: Louiie Victa
This article was originally published in Eater.
I love the slow deliberateness that the cool weather brings. How it makes magic of simple things like the changing leaves or the smell of burning wood in the air. The change of pace also influences my own kitchen: lately, I can’t help but want to cook thick stews, time-consuming braises, and silky soups.
One dish that I love making when the weather grows cold is a hearty bouillabaisse. While a bowl will often cost you a fair amount of money at a restaurant, making it at home is more affordable, and recalls its origins as a humble Provençal fisherman’s stew made with scraps of fish that were too undesirable to be sold.
The magic of bouillabaisse isn’t in the value of the fish or the technique used to prepare it, but in the melding of its ingredients. Like a carefully crafted spell, they alchemize to create something soulful and worth savoring.
Traditionally, bouillabaisse is made with several different kinds of firm white fish, cockles, mussels, and occasionally bits of lobster or shrimp. Thankfully, living down South means that I have access to some of the most beautiful seafood the Gulf Coast has to offer. Since the ports of Marseille, where the stew originated, are a little far for me, I get creative with the ingredients I can get my hands on.
In this Southern-inspired bouillabaisse, tender catfish chunks are substituted for Mediterranean fish like red snapper or turbot, while local shrimp and lump crab add a plump sweetness. The stock is fortified by meaty gulf oysters and gets an unmistakably briney punch from a generous addition of littleneck clams and mussels. The dish is elevated by tiny ribbons of saffron that are swirled into the burnt-orange broth. Throw in a few slices of a toasted baguette (extra points if you rub them with garlic) and abracadabra, you’re holding a warm bowl of magic in your hands.