EVERY YEAR my neighbors and I host an alfresco dining experience. There’s something special about sharing food with friends under a canopy of live oaks in the crisp evening air. How calming it is to drop out of the weekly rat race and succumb to the pace of the weekend and the quiet, gentle flow of the river. We choose what we hope is a perfect fall evening and begin the planning process. This always requires several meetings, sipping wine and munching on cheese and crackers, as we dig for hours through our favorite cookbooks and imagine how to present the colors, textures and flavors of the Louisiana fall bounty.
This year, my neighbor Marian designed the themed menu for the “Night with Gauguin” neighborhood dinner. Paul Gauguin, a post-impressionist painter, was born and lived in Paris, but also spent many years in Tahiti. We designed the menu to capture his bold experimental colors while fusing the style and tastes of France and Tahiti. Voila, le menu!
Cocktail Signature de Paul Gauguin
Terrine de Canard/Terrine de Legume Saisonnier (duck terrine and terrine or pâté of vegetables with crusty homemade French bread)
Bouillabaisse Marseillaise (a saffron flavored fish soup in the style of Provence)
Salade d’Orange Sanguine/Olives, Oignons, Feta, Menthe (Blood orange salad with olives, red onions, feta and mint)
Gateau au Rhum Tahitienne/Sorbet au Ananas- Noix de Coco (Rum Cake with pineapple and coconut sorbet)
This is a true collective cooking effort from the best of our neighborhood chefs or brigade de cuisine. The neighborhood brigade consists of a bread maker, the boulanger; dessert maker, patissier; a mixologist, of course, and a charcutier to make the pâté and terrine. I will be making the fish soup so I guess I could be called the poissonnier (fish cook) and the potager (soup cook). The team is complete, now all we need are some enthusiastic fellow gourmands to enjoy the fruits of our labors of love. That should not be difficult to find!
Soupe de Poisson
The French claim that it is not possible to produce a true bouillabaisse if you do not live in southern France. There are certain fish, particularly rascasse, that are required. So call it fish soup, soupe de poisson, or call it bouillabaisse. This is an authentic fish soup in the style of Provence made even better with local Louisiana seafood. Serve with garlicky fiery sauce rouille and crusty French bread or croutes and your favorite wine from Provence. A great soup is only as good as the stock that you make.
For the fish stock: as in any great soup, shrimp creole, or bouillabaisse, you must have a rich and flavorful fish stock. This means that you must gather fish heads and bones to get the rich gelatinous stock needed to make a perfect soupe de poisson.
Ingredients for fish stock:
1 onion, quartered
2-3 leeks, the white and pale green parts, sliced and rinsed to remove sand
2-3 carrots cut into large chunks
1 rib of celery sliced
5 sprigs of parsley and fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
4 fish, using the heads, tails and bones
Directions for fish stock:
Place the fish heads and tails or bones in a large stock pot. Add all other ingredients above. Salt and pepper. Cover with water and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the broth and discard fish bones and vegetables.
Ingredients for fish soup:
3-4 types firm, white fish, approx. ½ pound per person (Try to get at least 3- 4 different kinds of firm, white, very fresh fish. I like to use redfish or snapper, grouper, drum, etc. I do not use trout or catfish and never salmon.)
Shellfish (I like to also use shellfish such as shrimp, mussels and if you are feeling very extravagant, lobster tails which can be cut into small pieces. Some people like to add crabs too. Be creative!)
1 cup fresh seeded and chopped tomatoes
5-6 new potatoes cubed
½ teaspoon pulverized saffron
Directions for fish soup:
Return strained broth to large but shallow pot and bring to a gentle boil. Add tomatoes, potatoes and saffron. Continue to simmer until potatoes are tender. Then add mussels, shrimp, lobster and crabs if you are using these. Add all seafood that takes a little longer to cook first then add fish last and poach it gently in the barely simmering broth. When fish is tender and flaky, the bouillabaisse is ready to serve. While the fish is cooking or before you put seafood into the hot broth, make the rouille.
Sauce Rouille—A Hot Pepper and Garlic Sauce
- garlic cloves, peeled
1 roasted red pepper
1 dried red pepper, rehydrated until soft
1–2-inch slice stale French bread soaked in fish stock and then squeezed dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
½ cup hot fish stock
Place garlic, roasted pepper, small hot pepper and bread in food processor and blend with fish stock until thick and smooth. Gradually drizzle in olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve in a wide soup bowl with a toasted round of French bread that has been grilled or baked and brushed with olive oil. Pass the rouille in a separate bowl for guests to stir liberally into their soup.
Look for more of my recipes for the perfect alfresco fall dinner at SophisticatedWoman.com/foodies-friends.