A traditional favorite from France's Mediterranean coast
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds leeks
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 sweet red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
8 pieces dried orange peel (each about 2 inches by 1 inch)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
5 pounds very fresh fish, fish heads, fish bones (a mixture of things works best; avoid fish that are fishy or oily)
1 cup dry white wine
10 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stew pot. Split the leeks, wash away grit, and chop the leeks into coarse pieces. Add the leeks, garlic, and bell pepper to the olive oil. Stir. Cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to soften.
2. Add the basil, saffron, orange peel, and fennel seeds. Mix well with the leeks. Then increase the heat to high, add the fish pieces, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the white wine and deglaze pot. Bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute. Add the water, stir well, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and skimming foam off the top of the pot.
3. When done, select a clean pot that is large and wide. Strain the broth into the pot through a sieve, pressing on the solids in the sieve. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Though Bouillabaise has utterly downscale roots -- it was a simple supper for Marseilles fisherman who threw their unsold, least desirable fish in a pot -- today has taken on the aura of shabby-chic. This is abetted by the kind of prices they get for it on the Mediterranean and the kind of upscale restaurants that serve it.