Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christmas and Bouillabaisse

Every year on Christmas eve from at least 1964 until really not that long ago in the Grand Scheme of Things, my parents would play host to the Christmas and Hanukkah Caroling Party in which a good chunk of NY science fiction fandom would turn up at their 13 room house in Brooklyn and then proceed to meander about the Ditmas Park neighborhood singing sectarian, non-sectarian, and (in some cases) highly irreverent songs. It was such a joy.

While the singers were out, my mother and a core of us enthusiastic assistants would stay behind and cook for the masses. As time progressed and I got older, I took over a lot of the grunt work. As more time progressed and my parent's aged and fandom changed, the Christmas eve event became more of a in-house holiday party for 20 of our closest friends and I pretty much did most of the cooking with my sister, my daughter and my hubby pitching in. The past few years, it became a half dozen people who couldn't let go. Last year was the last of Christmas in Brooklyn.

This year my parents are down here living in an assisted living facility and my sister and I are trying to sell the house. My mother has severe short term memory loss and won't even know really that she's missing Christmas although the decorations in her facility will reminder her something's happening. But, my sister and I will bring her and my dad over to one of our houses and try to recapture... something.

But, we will make do...and the purpose of this was not to bring anybody down, but to give a backstory. At the center of every single one of these parties was my mother's Bouillabaisse. There were other stalwarts that lasted for several years and then moved on and replaced (her baklava, my fried artichoke hearts, Scandinavian rosettes). But, always there was her Bouillabaisse, beloved of everyone who tried it. I wouldn't know, because I don't like fish. But, once she wrote it down, I followed it slavishly (because I was NOT going to taste it) and I hear it tasted just as good. It is best served accompanied by a crusty piece of Italian or French bread (God, do I miss NY bakeries).

11 years ago, she was finally persuaded to actually take all her little note scraps and organize them into a cohesive recipe so that it was not lost. I will be making it this year for Thanksgiving and I imagine, depending on how Christmas actually winds up going, for Christmas. But, it is a recipe that needs to be shared. Following, exactly the way she wrote it out is:


Perdita's Bouillabaise

These amounts and varieties of seafood are pretty nominal. I practically always use scrod because cod is hard to find these days and expensive when you do. I rarely use any lobster, but I usually use ocean scallops (bay scallops are too small and shrink to almost nothing when cooked). Fresh seafood is better, but frozen can be used if necessary. And, actually, chopped clams have no part in any other recipe I ever saw, but I like them as sort of a filler upper in the soup.

I arrived at this version after looking over several recipes - some much more complicated, some very ethnic, some very American. I concluded that Bouillabaise is a fish soup. Strictly speaking, I guess that this is not really authentic bouillabaise in that it isn't made with the same sorts of fish as those used in France, which like those I use, are what's available. But, the flavorings are authentic and the method of preparation is like many of the recipes I looked at. Anyway, it's what I make, and everybody seems to like it.

Shrimp - 1 lb
Hadddock, cod,or scrod - 1-1/2 - 2 lbs
lobster - 1 c (opt)
scallops,ocean - 1/2 - 1 lb (actually scallops are myown inclusion also)
chopped clams, with juice - 2 6-oz cans
olive oil - 1/2c
garlic chopped - 2 cloves
tomatoes, stewed - 2-1/2 c
thyme - 1/2 t
Parsley, dried- some
bay leaf - 1
saffron - 1/8t
salt - 2-3 T

Boiling water or fishstock - 1 qt (I usually use water. Stock doesn't seem to make enough difference to go through the trouble. Besides, fish scraps from the seafood store always have eyes in them which need to be removed, and I just can't)

1. Shell and clean shrimp
2. Cut fish into 1-1/2" cubes
3. Heat oil, add shrimp, scallops, garlic and onions. Simmer 10 mins.
4. Add remaining ingredients except fish and clams. Simmer 30 mins more.
5. Add fish forlast 20 mins.
6. Add clams for last few minutes.

Perdita Boardman
Dec.17, 1999

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