There's Fish In My Soup Transcript

The Kitchen

    Hi. I'm Alton Brown. And I did not always want to be a cook. In fact, culinary matters weren't even on my radar until summer of 1981, when I experienced, I don't know, an edible epiphany. Having failed to gain entrance to any of the institutions of higher learning to which I had applied after high school, I decided to take a relative's advice, and money, and head off to Europe to seek something.
    [pulls a map of Europe into view] I hiked my way across the pub-strewn landscape of jolly old England, across the Netherlands, with their funny, but delicious little brownies, up through the Rhineland, down into France. And finally, I made my way to the coast, arriving on a cold, dark night at the docks of Marseille, tired, hungry, and darn-near broke.

The Kitchen, Transformed into a put of Marseille

GUESTS: French Cooks #1 & #2
              French Waitress #1 & #2

FRENCH WAITRESS #1: What do you want?
AB: Um, I'll have a cheeseburger, s'il vous plait.
FW #1: No cheeseburger, bouillabaisse.
AB: Gesundheit! Uh, well then, I'll tell you what, I'll have a sandwich du jambon.
FW #1: No jambon, bouillabaisse.
FRENCH WAITRESS #2: [having taken an order from another table] Bouillabaisse, bouillabaisse, bouillabaisse. Beer, beer, beer.
FRENCH CHEF #1: Bouillabaisse!
FRECNH CHEF #2: Bouillabaisse!
FC #1: Bouillabaisse!
FC #2: Beer!
FC #1: Beer!
FC #2: Beer!
FW #1: So you'll have bouillabaisse?
AB: Boil your face?
FW #1: Bouillabaisse!
FC #1: Bouillabaisse!
FW #1: Drink?
AB: Um, vin rouge, please.
FW #1: No vin, beer.
AB: Okay, beer.
FC #1: Beer!
FC #2: Beer!

    Needless to say, I had no idea what I had just been forced into ordering. But at least it was cheap, and there would be beer. Moments later, a bowl appeared. Unceremoniously, I might add.

AB: Merci.
FW #1: Whatever.

    The bowl was a riot of color and aromas, some familiar, others strange, new and exciting.
    And then, I took a bite and I saw the light. This was flavor like nothing I'd ever experienced. A mélange of seafood in a rich, red, luxurious liquid, redolent with citrus and spice. And there, perched in the middle, a huge, toasted crouton, onto which had been slathered a creamy concoction that tasted like red peppers and angel tears.
    By the third bite, I knew I had to possess its secrets.

AB: Oh, pardon, mademoiselle. Um, do you think that I could ask the cooks for the recipe?
FW #1: That is funny.
FC #2: Like Jerry Lewis.
AB: Why?
FC #1: Because you can never make bouillabaisse.
FW #2: Because you are not French.
FC #1: You do not have the right fish.
FC #2: Or the tomatoes.
FC #1: Or the fennel.
FC #2: Or the saffron.
FW #2: You are lucky we let you eat here.
FC #2: Because you will never...
FW #2: ... ever ...
FW #1: ... ever ...
FC #1: ... successfully prepare ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

The Kitchen

    Ever since that fateful night, those many decades ago, I have made bouillabaisse my personal culinary raison d'être [tran: "reason for existence"]. I have fussed over every aspect of its manufacture, from the software, to the hardware, to the processes. And I'm here to tell you that this apparently simple stew is not just another fussy bowl of France. In fact, some historians don't even think it's French at all.
    In fact, according to the historian Thucydides, Marseille was not only founded in 600 B.C., by Greeks from Phocaea no less, bouillabaisse itself was actually concocted by none other than ...

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.. the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Who, although married to the chronically short and ugly Hephaestus, god of fire and forge, was secretly running around with Ares, god of war. Whenever Hephaestus got busy down in his workshop, Aphrodite and Ares just got busy.
    One day, Aphrodite concocted a fish soup seasoned with saffron, which, for some crazy reason, she thought would put her husband to sleep, so that she and Ares could get busy. Hephaestus loved the soup, but instead of going to sleep, he went off and finished the fine metal net he'd been crafting to snare the crafty lovers.

The Kitchen

    It's a romantic tale to be sure. But the simple truth is that fishermen stews tend to happen wherever fishermen fish, and bouillabaisse is no exception. In fact, the really great thing about this type of stew is that it is highly adaptable.

    Now the software fits into four categories: there's vegetable, spice, liquid, and animal.


    Now the plant matter, all easily obtained at the local megamart, okay? You've got aromatics like onion and garlic, you've got fennel, some parsley, orange peel, fresh bay leaves, red bell pepper, and red chili. Oh, and tomatoes, which can be canned.
    Now, the spices include sea salt, cayenne pepper, ground of course, saffron, and black peppercorns.
    The liquids: water, lemon juice, olive oil, and dry white wine. A burgundy or even a cassis would be nice, but you know what? In a pinch, you could get by with pinot grigio. Just don't tell anybody who's French.
    And then of course, there are the animals, the seafood. Now this is the big sticking point when it comes to bouillabaisse authenticity. Come here.

    [at a blackboard, depicting the ocean floor] Let us now take a few moments to meet the denizens of the deep that appear in the classic bouillabaisse. This is the rescasse, a handsome member of the scorpionfish family, as is the chapon, down here. The baudroie is an ugly member of the anglerfish family. Then we have red mullets, we have the dorade, member of the bream family. John Dory, gurnard, down here, and of course, the slippery conger eel. Oh, and lest I forget, there is the Mediterranean spiny lobster down here.




[red mullet]



[conger eel]

[spiny lobster]

[John Dory]

    Now what's key is that these are all essentially trash fish.

AB: [the fish] Sorry guys.

    That's why fishermen eat them, they can't really sell them. Now typically, at least four members of this roster appear in bouillabaisse, but the only one that seems to be absolutely required is the rescasse, which is unique to the area around Marseille.
    Now, scorpionfish, big family, and if you can throw a line in the water, you can catch scorpionfish right off of L.A. Harbor. But they rarely show up in markets, because sushi bars grab them all up. But guess what? None of this really matters. The way I look at it, you want a firm white fish, you want a flaky white fish, a crustacean, and a bi-valve. And you want them as fresh as possible. In America, that we can easily manage.

Bouillabaise is so revered, the French created a standard:
"La Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise".

The Kitchen

    [at the seafood counter] Although a wide array of seafood is acceptable in this application, remember, a bouillabaisse is only as good as the seafood that's in it. So seek out top-quality product from an independent fishmonger or a megamart with a fishy reputation ... in a good way.

    Now, I have cross-referenced the list of French bouillabaisse seafood with sustainable, common market varieties here in the U.S., and I've come up with a hero list, if you will, to choose from. Now my top three flaky fish would be, in no particular order, halibut, black cod, or sablefish, and black bass, or black rockfish. As for firm fish, I would say, striped bass, cobia, and, of course, sea scallops. Flaky: Halibut
Flaky: Black Cod or Sablefish
Flaky: Black Bass or Black
Firm: Striped Bass
Firm: Cobia
Firm: Sea Scallops

    When in doubt, of course, you can turn to your friendly neighborhood fishmonger. He or she is an expert, and is there to help. Watch this.

AB: Henry, I ...
CHEFS #1 & 2:
[from Scene 1, appear wearing sunglasses as a poor disguise]
AB: Where's Henry.
FC #1: Henry is off today.
FC #2: Apparently his goldfish died.
AB: That's terrible. Well look, I want to make bouillabaisse. So ...
FC #1: Impossible.
FC #2: Ridiculous.
AB: Why? You've got lots of beautiful fish here.
FC #1: Ah, but we have no rescasse.
FC #2: So no bouillabaisse for you.
AB: You guys look familiar.
FC #1: No we don't.
FC #2: We are from France.
AB: Okay, whatever. Look, I'll take a couple of the cobia fillets, and a couple of the black cod fillets, all right?
FC #1: Fine.
FC #2: Whatever.

    Of course, I also need bi-valves. Although clams would do in a pinch, I prefer blue mussels, which are only a few genes away from the ones found in the Mediterranean. They're grown on ropes that hang down from rafts, where they can freely filter-feed, and they can be harvested without impacting the surrounding environment.

AB: So I'm going to take a pound of the mussels.
FC #1: Fine.
FC #2: Whatever.

    And I also need, of course, a crustacean, so I'm going to take one lobster tail. Now spiny, or Caribbean lobster tails are widely available in raw, frozen form, and are easily recognized by their cheetah-like spots.

AB: So I'm going to take one lobster tail.
FC #1: Fine.
FC #2: Whatever.

    And I also want one pound of these fish bones and heads, preferably from cold-water varieties, which contain more gelatin.

FC #1: Ah, we have no bones.
AB: What are you talking about, they're right there.
FC #2: Reserved.
AB: Reserved?
FC #1: Oui.
AB: Fish bones?
FC #1: Oui.
AB: I want to talk to Henry.
FC #1: Fine. [produces a phone which AB picks up]
FC #2: Whatever. [picks up the other end of the line on his cell]
AB: Hello, Henry? Henry?
FC #2: [accent now Americanized] Hello old chap.
AB: Hey look, I'm just, I'm trying to make some bouillabaisse, you know?
FC #2: You can't make the bouillabaisse. You can't do it!
AB: What are you ...? Henry, I ... something weird is going. Henry? Hello? Hello? Oh bother.

Go to for a list of
sustainable seafood
available in your region.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    [at the refrigerator] Having procured my seafood, finally, I want to make sure that I store it properly, all right? The fish should be kept on ice, but that ice needs to be able to melt and drain away without waterlogging the meat. That's why I put the ice and the fish in a perforated plastic tub with another tub underneath to catch the run-off, and of course a top is always a good idea.
    Now when it comes to the mussels, just about any containment will do. But make sure you top them with moist newspaper. Remember they're alive in there, and nothing will kill them off quicker than fresh water, all right? Now, about them bones.

    [at the sink] I've got 16 ounces of them, and they need to be rinsed, because they could be a little, obviously, on the fishy side. And yes, odds are something's going to be staring at you. Don't freak out. Give them a quick rinse, and then move them into a tall, narrow pot in the six-quart range. Add one-half teaspoon of black peppercorns, four to five fresh bay leaves, one teaspoon of salt, and in this case, I'm using coarse sea salt. Then, six cups of the cleanest, freshest water you can get, and if you've got stinky water at home, you might want to use bottled or filtered. 16 Ounces Fish Bones, Heads
    & Tails
½ tsp. Whole Black

4-5 Fresh Bay Leaves
1 tsp. Coarse Sea Salt
6 Cups Water

    Now this is going to go over high heat, covered, just long enough to bring to a boil. And when it does hit a boil, remove the lid, and drop the heat to as low as you have got, to maintain a bare simmer for 25 minutes.
    After that, strain the stock, and do it through the finest strainer you have. A colander is definitely not fine enough. And don't go pushing on the solids with a spoon either. Believe me, they've given up all that they have. Now just discard all that, and let the stock cool down.

    In the meantime, clean that pot, get it back on medium heat, add a quarter cup of olive oil, and when it shimmers, toss in six ounces of chopped onion, and three ounces of chopped fennel. ¼ Cup Olive Oil
6 Ounces Onions, Chopped

    Now unless I'm mistaken, we have not actually used fennel on this program before, so ...

THING: [hands AB a piece of paper]
AB: What's this? Oh yeah. Thank you Thing.

    We did. The Wheat Berry [sic, Barley] Salad. [sic, also mentioned in A Beautiful Grind] I'd forgotten about that. All right, so this is the second time that we have used the fennel bulb. But if you're unfamiliar, basically we're going to treat it like a big, fuzzy green onion, all right? We're going to cut off the stalks here, and of course, these can be used in a stock. Stalk, stock, stock ... Never mind. Then split the bulb thusly [top to bottom, lengthwise], and then just treat it like an onion. You know, chopping an onion, by cutting in one direction, and then chop through in the other direction. There.

    Toss the fennel in with the onions, and a half teaspoon of either the coarse sea salt, or kosher salt, and sauté for 10 minutes, or until semi-translucent. Stir frequently please.

3 Ounces Fennel, Chopped
½ tsp. Coarse Sea Salt

In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a
fennel plant to steal fire from the gods.

The Kitchen

    Back to the bouillabaisse. Now once the onion and fennel are semi-translucent, go ahead and add a half a cup of the white wine, and then add one 14.5 can of diced tomatoes, undrained. That's important. And finally, the fish stock. Every last loving drop of it. There. Now, a quarter of a cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley, a three-inch piece of orange peel. Try to avoid the pith. And a mere sixteenth of a teaspoon of saffron. That's not a lot, but believe me, this is powerful stuff. ½ Cup White Wine
14.5 Ounce Can Dice
Fish Stock
¼ Cup Flat Leaf Parsley,

3-Inch Piece Orange Peel
1/16 tsp. Saffron

    Now, boost the heat to high, cover, and bring to a boil. That'll take three to five minutes, maybe. And then decrease the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, all right? Now that is going to break down the onion and fennel further, and extract flavors from the saffron and citrus. It's also going to give us time to prepare the pungent paste that I experienced on the crouton in my soup all those years ago. It's called ruille, and it turns out to be kind of the multi-tasking sauce of Provence.

    It begins with a large, ripe, red bell pepper, all right? You want to thoroughly char it by placing it right slap dab on a gas burner, set to high. Just turn it, you know, several times a minute, until it looks like it, you know, came out of Pompeii somewhere. Now, if you don't have a gas cooktop, you could use a blow torch, or even a heat gun from the hardware store. It takes the paint off too.
    [at the oven] You could use your broiler, on high, but it's a big, fat pain if you ask me.
1 Large Red Bell Pepper

    Once thoroughly charred, move the pepper to a bowl, and cover with either a pot lid or a plate or what have you. Let it sit like that for 5 to 10 minutes. That will give steam time to go to work, loosening that outer char. Then, you can simply rub it off with a clean kitchen towel, or at least most of it. And go ahead and remove as many of the seeds as you possible can. Don't worry about getting them all.

    Now as far as making the sauce, we could use a mini food processor, or a standard food processor, if you have the accessory small work bowl. That would definitely be best here. So we're just going to load that up with everything we need, including the charred and now skinned red bell pepper, one fresh red chili, like a Fresno, split in half, three large garlic cloves, a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a quarter teaspoon of either the same coarse sea salt we've been using, or kosher salt. And lid up and spin up, until everything is relatively smooth. There. 1 Fresh Red Chile
3 Large Garlic Cloves,
1 tsp. Lemon Juice, Freshly
¼ tsp. Coarse Sea Salt
    Now it's time to drizzle in half a cup of olive oil, until you've got an emulsion. ½ Cup Olive Oil

    [at the refrigerator] And there you have it, the mayo of Provence, only without the eggs. Store in the fridge for now, but be sure to bring it to room temperature before dispensing.
    Now while you're here, go ahead and retrieve your seafood, including the mussels, which will require a quick inspection. They may be open or gaping, but if they don't close within a minute of being tapped, send them to the trash, not the soup. These are okay.
    [donning latex gloves at the countertop] All right, we're going to cut the seafood into one-inch pieces. Now if the fillets have their skin on, that's going to have to go. The best way to do that is to just start down here at the end of the piece, kind of cut a little piece of meat away, then get hold of the tail, hold it on the board, and then scoot your knife under, until you can really get hold of the skin, and kind of wiggle it back and forth against the blade until it comes free. There.
    Now on the cobia, now that actually has kind of two little sections, or loins of meat. Now just slice through into strips, against the grain. There. Now just cut into one-inch strips, across the grain.
    As far as the lobster tail goes, the best thing to do is to break into the underside, using your shears. Now they call this a spiny lobster not just because of its headgear, but because of the spines on the tail, so be careful. Cut down, kind of crack them open, then just get hold of the tail meat and pull it out in the opposite direction. Then just slice through into medallions or strips.

    All right, now the part that strikes me kind of odd. Boost the heat all the way to high, and then add all of your fish. Both the cobia and the cod, two cloves of garlic, crushed, a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper, half a teaspoon of your sea salt, along with a quarter cup of olive oil, extra virgin. And let that come to a hard, solid boil, and keep it there for five to seven minutes. Now I know it seems like a crazy step. Why boil? Well, it's in the name. 8 Ounces Each: Cobia &
    Black Cod
2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
½ tsp. Coarse Sea Salt
¼ Cup Olive Oil

William Makepeace Thackery wrote the "Ballad of Bouillabaisse" in 1855.

The Kitchen

    Remember my little malapropism from back in '81, "boil your face?" Well it turns out, it was only partially wrong. Bouill does mean boil, while baisse translates to lower. So obviously there is reducing and boiling going on here. Not simmering, all-out boiling. Why is this necessary? Finally, some good, juicy science.
    So, what's with boiling the bouillabaisse? Well let's say for just a moment that this water represents the water phase of the soup, that being the stock, the wine and the tomato liquid. And the oil, it's right up there. Now anyone who's made a vinaigrette can tell you that this two do not work and play well together. And if you're going to bring them into an even semi-stable union, agitation will be required. And that would be pretty tough to do in our case, at least with a whisk, since our soup has got a lot of bits and pieces in it.
    The answer, boil it. The convective action of boiling is a fine agitator indeed. Of course, one would think that when the bubbles stop, the mixture would just separate right back out, and you would end up serving a red soup with an oil slick on top. But you don't have to worry about that. Why? Because of the stock. Remember we used water to extract a considerable amount of gelatin from those old fish bones and heads. And fish gelatin is very sticky stuff, due to the molecular weight of the proteins it contains. That's why it used to be used to make the adhesive on envelopes, and believe it or not, electrical insulators on circuit boards. It's true.
    Now, the proteins in question make excellent emulsifiers, bringing the water and the oil in the bouillabaisse together, thus creating a liquid with a heavy, rich feel in the mouth. Science, it tastes good. Looks pretty funky too.

    Time is up, the soup is done. So kill the heat and add our final additions. The mussels, half a pound. I know, I bought a pound, but I'm going to eat the others. And the lobster tail pieces. Give a stir, and cover, and allow to poach for about four minutes. During this time, you may want to contemplate your toast. ½ Pound Mussels
Meat From 1 Large Lobster

    Bake or buy a decent, crusty baguette or French loaf, what we in the trade call a lean loaf. You're going to slice that on the bias, about a half-inch to three quarters of an inch thick. There. Now rub each side with a cut clove of garlic. Believe it or not, it'll bring a lot of flavor to the party.
    All right, then we're going to toast these, either under the broiler for a couple of minutes, in a toaster oven, on a grill, or even just on a cooling rack over a gas flame, very rustic. You want a little bit of color, but no burning, please, and be sure to do both sides.
    [takes the cover off the stock pot] Ah, behold, bouillabaisse.
    When it comes time to serve, there are two distinct bouillabaisse schools of thought. One says to put the crouton in the bottom, and then ladle the soup over. And then of course there's the school that says to ladle the soup, and then float the crouton on top. I could personally go either way.

[camera pans out to show the chefs and waitresses, eating at the table]

AB: So, what's the consensus?
FC #1: Crap!
AB: What, are you kidding? I've worked on this dish for years. It's good!
FC #2: Is it from France?
FW #1: Is it from Provence?
FW #1: Did you use rescasse?
AB: No.
All but AB: Crap! [yet they keep on gobbling it down]

    Folks, I hope that we've at least inspired you to give bouillabaisse a chance. Will you ever get it right enough for the average Frenchman? Odds are, no, unless of course, you are a Frenchman. Will you produce a devilishly good soup, allowing you to enjoy a wide range of flavors, textures, aromas, and sustainable seafood? Mais, oui, as in oui'll see you next time on Good Eats.

FC #1: [with his soup finished and everyone else looking statisfied, tossing his napkin] Hmm, zat was terrible.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 12/02/2011