Marseille Fish Soup – Soupe de Poisson
Marseille Fish Soup
~ Roger Verge
Nothing could be more Provençal than to eat a fish soup, whether it’s in the form of bouillabaisse, bourride or this simple rustic soup. Marseille fish soup, or soupe de poissons as it’s known, is something I crave all the time, the assertive flavors redolent with the very soul of Provence transports me back to the old port of Marseilles where I first tried it many decades ago.
The Body of the Fish has Gone. The Soul Remains.
Author Waverly Root writes at length about his frustrating search for an authentic fish soup in ‘the Food of France’. He narrowed it down to a version served in Saint Tropez, 65 miles east of Marseilles, largely because of the addition of a local chemical green colored fish. Finding the elusive fish was maddening “because the mistral had been blowing without a let-up during the whole period. This is supposed to discourage the fish, or at least some of the fish, which do not allow themselves to be caught in weather they feel unsuitable for the purpose. The effect of the mistral on the fish may be a legend, but the effect on the fishermen was observable. They preferred to stay ashore and play petanque…” Finally, on his last day in Saint Tropez he is blessed with not one, but two offerings of soupe de poissons.
Further, in Waverly Root’s narrative, he provides a compelling argument as what should be the correct title. Soupe de poissons implies a soup with fish floating inside. “A dish providing soup and fish is not the genuine article, as the Riviera understands it. In soupe aux poissons, no fish is visible. It is there all right, but it has disappeared into the liquid. The body of the fish has gone. The soul remains. The fish is ground, crushed, pulverized, and then cooked until it has become liquid itself, and the soup is then strained to eliminate any telltale traces of the ingredients that provides its greatness.”
Marseille Fish Soup - Soupe de Poissons
You will want to make a big batch and freeze what you don’t eat. Making fish soup at home can be a very messy, labor-intensive process. Trust me, you will thank me later for this advice. I usually make a few gallons and then freeze leftovers in quart sized mason jars ready to use at a moments call.
Fish: Make sure to use at least one fish that has some gelatin in it. I use rockfish from the Pacific Northwest to give the soup the body it needs.
Rouille: There are a million variations of rouille. The version listed below will give you the same flavors found at most restaurants serving rouille. Remember, people eat results — not methods. I sometimes add some boiled potato for adding body. In the end, whisk in a touch of your fish soup to give more flavor to your rouille. Make a big batch of rouille and try eating it with almost everything you can imagine — vegetables, cold roast pork, chicken, on sandwiches.