National Bouillabaisse Day
annually on December 14th
Bouillabaisse, a fish stew native to Marseille, France, is celebrated today. Bouillabaisse translates from the word "bolhir" meaning to boil, and "abaissar" meaning to reduce heat or simmer. It is so named because in making it, broth is first boiled, and then different types of fish are added one at a time, with the heat being reduced to a simmer if it begins to boil. When Marseille was founded in 600 BCE, a fish stew called kakavia was eaten, which was similar to bouillabaisse. Another similar soup appears in Roman mythology, and was fed to Vulcan by Venus. It is believed that bouillabaisse was created by Marseille fishermen, which they made after returning to port. They used rockfish that they had caught that were too bony to sell to restaurants, boiled them in a cauldron of water, and seasoned them with garlic and fennel. By the nineteenth century, the dish was being served in restaurants and hotels, and being eaten by members of the upper class. By this time fish stock had replaced the boiling water, and saffron was added. Bouillabaisse spread to Paris, and then around the world, and was adapted to local tastes and ingredients.
Bouillabaisse typically is made with three types of fish: red rascasse is a must, and sea robin and European conger are usually used as well. The freshness of the fish is an important component of the stew. Other types of fish are sometimes included, as well as shellfish and other seafood, such as sea urchins and mussels. Herbs and spices from the area are used, and common vegetables that are simmered in the broth include leeks, onions, celery, tomatoes, and potatoes. The broth is usually served first, in a soup plate, with a rouille—made of garlic, olive oil, saffron, and cayenne pepper—and bread, or croutons that have been rubbed with garlic. The fish is then served separately on a larger platter. The fish and broth may also be served together in a large soup plate. In Marseille, recipes vary, and some types of the stew that are served to tourists are quite different from the traditional recipe. Similar dishes are also served in other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
How to Observe National Bouillabaisse Day
Celebrate the day by eating some bouillabaisse. You may need to travel to Marseille in order to have it prepared with the traditional types of fish, but you should be able to find a version of it at many French or seafood restaurants. Julia Child lived in France for some time and had her own recipe for the stew. There are many recipes available, and you'll just have to pick one and give it a try!