My grandmother would start prepping her pièce de résistance days before hosting our family reunions. My siblings and I would tiptoe through her kitchen each day and find her chopping onions, or unwrapping mysterious creatures from old newsprint while pots boiled on the stove. On the day of the reunion, we would chat with distant relatives, waiting for my grandmother’s appearance. The adults would gather around the pot, inhale and say things like, “Oh Franny, your bouillabaisse smells delicious.”
Decades passed before I discovered that bouillabaisse is a French way of saying “fisherman’s stew.” There are a number of seafood ingredients that bouillabaisse aficionados insist must be in the stew to warrant the name. At its most basic, however, bouillabaisse was created to consume leftover seafood hauled in by fishermen in Marseille. Most coastal countries around the world have their own version of this.
I created a Pacific Northwest fisherman’s stew using seafood from the Oregon Coast—Pacific yellowfin tuna, mussels and prawns. The tuna anchors the stew with a tender meatiness. Be careful not to overcook the tuna lest it become chewy. While my grandmother prepared her stew days in advance, it can be made in about an hour.
Northwest Fisherman’s Stew
Serves: 5-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 1 hour
¼ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in large soup pot. Add in onions and sauté over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes, or until onions start to soften. Add garlic. Sauté 1 minute more. Pour in wine and let simmer until alcohol dissipates, about 3-4 minutes. Add in fish stock, tomatoes, lemon juice, bay leaf, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low and gently simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Add potatoes, bring to a boil, turn heat to medium-low and simmer for another 15 minutes, partially covered, or until potatoes are tender when pricked with a fork.
Add tuna, mussels and shrimp. Bring back to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 5 more minutes. Turn off heat and let sit covered for another 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened up at this point. Sprinkle in parsley.
Serve with salted butter and pieces of crusty sourdough bread to sop up the broth. A glass of white wine or a cold beer pairs well with the flavors of the bouillabaisse.