What to Eat in France: Bourride, or Provençal Fish Soup with Aioli in the Style of Sète
Bourride is the specialty of Sète, a town on the coast of the Languedoc in Provence. Sète is one of the largest fishing ports in the region. Native poet Paul Valéry called it l’île singulaire, the singular island, because it is nestled in between two salt water lakes and the sea.
Bourride is said to date back to the Phocaeans, the ancient inhabitants of Marseilles, then called Massilia.
In Provençal, it is called boulido, meaning “boiled.” It is not unlike bouillabaisse, a specialty of nearby Marseilles, the difference being that bourride is made with only white fish — monkfish tails in particular, and that it is accompanied by aioli instead of the traditional rouille served with bouillabaisse. Shellfish are never added.
My recipe is very traditional. There are many variants, but the aim of this series of articles “What to Eat in France” is to seek original or traditional recipes for traditional, regional dishes.
This dish is a sure pleaser for parties and is easy enough to cook ahead, doing everything but poaching the fish, which should be done before serving.
In the region, many locals drink rosé wine such as Coteaux-d’Aix-en-Provence with bourride, but one might just as easily pair it with a perfumed Languedoc white. There are a world of them to be discovered, but since they are not, for the most part. A.O.C., it’s difficult to recommend one in particular. It’s a matter of producer as much as place.
1 leek, chopped finely
1 onion, chopped
1 bulb fennel, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 orange zest
3 T. olive oil
1 laurel leaf
1 sprig thyme
12 medium-size potatoes, peeled and whole
Water to amply cover potatoes
4 1/2 lbs white fish only, such as monkfish, bass, grey mullet, whiting, cleaned with scales removed
Water to cover fish
2 1/10 cup white wine
Flat parsley, chopped
Earthenware serving dish or soup tureen
15-20 cloves garlic, peeled; number depends on number of people and egg yolks
2 egg yolks per person
2 2/10 cups olive oil
Salt to taste
Mortar and pestle
- In a soup pot, sauté the vegetables and orange peel in olive oil for 5 minutes.
- Add wine, laurel and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for 10 minutes.
- Add potatoes. Add enough water to just cover them. Boil gently until cooked but still firm, usually 20-25 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove vegetables. Reserve the broth.
- Place garlic cloves in a mortar. Crush garlic with pestle.
- Add egg yolks and a dash of salt.
- Gradually add olive oil drop by drop and continue grinding until a smooth paste is formed. Add one squeeze of lemon and continue grinding until incorporated.
- Set aside one third of aioli for the table.
Note: If aioli is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of warm water. For a dinner party, this dish can be prepared ahead of time up to this step.
- Cut fish into large chunks and put them into the warm court-bouillon.
- Bring to a boil and boil gently for 10 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon or strainer to remove the fish. Set it aside.
- Pour broth through a cheesecloth or fine strainer.
- Put two-thirds of the aioli into the soup pot. Over very low heat, stir constantly until it thickens.
- Heat until potatoes are warm in the middle.
- Put fish into an earthenware serving dish or soup tureen and pour soup and vegetables over it. Sprinkled with chopped parsley.
- Serve immediately, along with the extra aioli.
Note: It takes patience to heat the final soup, but keep the heat low. Otherwise, you may end up with an omelet instead of fish soup. To make your own croutons, grill bread in a frying pan. When toasted on both sides, remove and rub with a garlic clove.