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Ocean

Ocean

For our first post, our last meal. Not the one we last ate, but the one we’d like to be served as a Last Supper, seated in the centre of a long table, with family and friends stretching out on either side. You might say fish seems a plain choice, but the menu isn’t fish – it’s Ocean. The whole idea of ocean. All of the delights it contains.

June 25, 2015 | Text David Rollins Photography Rob Lee

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Ocean

For our first post, our last meal. Not the one we last ate, but the one we’d like to be served as a Last Supper, seated in the centre of a long table, with family and friends stretching out on either side. You might say fish seems a plain choice, but the menu isn’t fish – it’s Ocean. The whole idea of ocean. All of the delights it contains.

June 25, 2015 | Text David Rollins Photography Rob Lee

The idea for this ‘seafood fantasia’, as Rob has been calling it, is largely inspired by two things. First, this past winter was the coldest on the books, and it felt like the longest. By late February we’d cooked every stick-it-to-winter-in-the-ribs dish in our repertoire several times, and were really hankering for some newer and lighter comfort food. We found that fish soups and stews were the perfect solution: hearty but not heavy. We cooked chowder, romescada, ciopinno, bisque, fish curry, moules marinière, and our hands-down favourite dish of all time – bouillabaisse.

The second inspiration is a local seafood wholesaler that’s open to the public called La Mer. Just writing the name gives me a thrilling shiver. It’s cold as the deep sea. It’s an assault on the senses, and the imagination.

This winter I think they had 25 kinds of oysters, and they’ll shuck them right on the spot for you if you show the least bit of curiosity. Sometimes they’ll be out of something that seems like a no-brainer, like wild salmon fillets, and they’ll say, “Oh, <famous Montreal chef> from <famous Montreal restaurant> came in an hour ago and bought all 90 pounds. Sorry. Try the snapper, it just came in.” And the snapper looks alive, it’s so fresh.

Fresh. Nothing is fresher than fresh seafood, and really, it’s the only thing that’s fresh around here by winter’s end. Part of what we love so much about this place is the feeling of walking through the door and being smacked in the face by the cold, fresh smell of the sea. It pierces to the deepest level of the animal brain. It’s nature in its wildest and purest state.

A feast that celebrates the very source of life.

Here in Québec, people who don’t like fish will often say it’s le petit gout de la mer that ruins it for them – the ‘little taste of the sea’ that tells you this can’t possibly be chicken or beef. I suspect the villain may be iodine, or something in seaweed, or some trace mineral in sea salt. Whatever it is, the flavour of the sea sustained us through the coldest winter of our lives.

Bouillabaisse is really the most delicious thing we know how to make. It would have to be the main course at this Last Supper. The recipe we use is from Cook’s Illustrated, and it’s a daylong lesson in flavour building. Its page in my recipe book is so coated and puckered with gelatinous fish stock that you could break it into little fish crackers and serve cheese on them.

You start this bouillabaisse by making a fish stock that includes three heads of garlic and a whole bottle of white wine, among other wonders. The stock alone is something of a masterpiece. We made a triple batch a month ago, using a ten-pound head of mahi-mahi that took our fishmonger five minutes to hack through with a cleaver. It had terrifying rows of teeth, like a shark. The most exciting ingredient in our kitchen, ever.

What do you drink when dinner is the Ocean? Our wines of choice would certainly be whites from the Loire, who draw their vigour and intensity not just from the sun, but from a soil rich in fossilized seashells. Sancerre, Vouvray, Menetou Salon, Pouilly-Fumé… we’ll pair each to a different species of oyster. It will be a long meal. A long, deep drink of what makes the world alive.

Bouillabaisse

From Cook’s Illustrated “The Best Soups & Stews”, 2006.

SERVES 8 TO 10
If you decide to make the fish stock ahead, it must be used within 2 days or frozen and defrosted. Use only the freshest fish. Monkfish, sea bass, and ocean perch or red snapper make up our favorite combination. The chopped vegetables for the stock must be fairly small (no larger than 1 inch in diameter) and evenly cut. The rouille must be made the day you are planning to serve the bouillabaisse.

FISH STOCK

  • 1 small fennel bulb, chopped medium (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, chopped medium (about I cup)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped medium (about 2 cups)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 heads garlic, outer papery skin removed, but heads intact
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle dry white wine
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 large leeks (white and green parts included), split lengthwise, then chopped, washed thoroughly, and drained (about 4 cups)
  • 3 pounds fish frames, gills removed and discarded frames rinsed and cut into 6-jnch pieces
  • Reserved shrimp shells
  • Stems from 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or table salt
  • Zest from 2 medium oranges removed in large strips with vegetable peeler
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Pernod

 

FISH AND SHELLFISH MARINADE

  • 8 ounces small shell-on shrimp, peeled and shells reserved for fish stock
  • 8 ounces large sea scallops tendons removed and each scallop halved
  • 1 1/2 pounds fish fillets cut into 1 – to 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or table salt 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 medium garlic doves, minced or pressed through garlic press
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/3 cup shredded basil leaves
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Pernod

STEW 

  • 2 pounds mussels, shells scrubbed and beards removed
  • Salt and ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Combine all fish and shellfish marinade ingredients in large nonreactive bowl; toss well, cover flush with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 4 hours.

2. Meanwhile, stir fennel, carrot, onions, and oil together in 8-quart heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven. Cover pot and set over medium-low heat; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are fragrant, about 15 minutes. Place garlic in large heavy-duty plastic bag and seal. Smash garlic with rolling pin or meat pounder until flattened. Add smashed garlic to vegetables and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are dry and just beginning to stick about 15 minutes more. (Take care not to let garlic burn.) Add wine and stir to scrape pot bottom, then add tomatoes and their juices, leeks, fish frames, shrimp, parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorn, salt, and 4 cups water. Bring to simmer over mediumhigh heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, pressing down on fish bones occasionally with wooden spoon to submerge, until stock is rich and flavorful, about 1 hour.

3. Strain stock through large fine-mesh strainer or chinois into large bowl or container (you should have about 9 cups); rinse and wipe out stockpot and return strained stock to pot. Bring stock to boil over high heat and simmer over medium heat until reduced to 8 cups, about 10 minutes. Off heat, add orange zest and saffron. Let stand 10 minutes to infuse flavors. Strain stock through mesh strainer and set aside.

4. Return fish broth to clean 8-quart stockpot and bring to rolling boil over high heat. Stir in marinated fish and shellfish along with mussels, cover pot, and return to simmer; simmer for 7 minutes, stirring a few times to ensure even cooking. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand until fish is cooked through and mussels have opened, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper; ladle into bowls, and float one garlic-rubbed crouton topped with dollop of rouille in each bowl. Serve immediately.

Seafood platter from mortar-and-pestle.ca

5 Comments

  1. Laura 2 years ago

    Wow. This takes it to a whole new level. I swoon. Oh, and welcome back!!!

  2. Margo MacDonald 2 years ago

    Astoundingly beautiful.

  3. Titus 2 years ago

    It is 9:30 a.m. and the only thing that will satisfy me now for the rest of the day is this bouillabaisse. Your whole site is gorgeous and makes me ravenous. Perhaps a can of tuna will take the edge off? Congratulations to you both.

  4. Rob 2 years ago

    Thanks so much. We’ve been working hard on this. It’s great to be back. 🙂

  5. Stephanie 2 years ago

    YUMMY!! Pictures are fabulous!

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