Making The Old -- and The Good -- New Again

By James Parrish Coleman -- a/k/a Jimbo Coleman

A later edition. Early Editions had a white

spine, and ads for long extinct local business.

Gulf Coast Gourmet was compiled by my late mother, Jane S. Coleman, in the early 1960s. The book was a fund raiser for the Foley Woman's Club.

The illustrations are the original work of a very talented artist named Marion Dyer. The book has been in print for many, many years; but has the simple fault of assuming you know about Gulf seafood and really know how to cook. I'll cook through the book (and my childhood), explain how Jane Coleman cooked, and tell a lot of family stories in the process. I like to cook. I will share what I have, and hope you like it. That's the spirit of this blog. Bon Appetit.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Soup & Salad. Bouillabaisse and Bailey's

Soup - Bouillabaisse. 
See Mommy?
See Mommy cook?
Mommy is cooking with a toaster.
Mommy is clueless!
Jane and Marion and Flossie and Gulf Coast Gourmet wanted Mommy to be happy!
Be happy, Mommy!
Read this blog and cook.
Cook, Mommy! Cook, Mommy, cook!
Soup comes from nature, Mommy!
Soup is not a cylinder of goop in a can!
Don't reconstitute any more, Mommy!
Cook, Mommy.
Cook, Mommy, cook!

Cute Kid. But why is he being trained to eat canned soup? Mommy,  a pretty and petite brunette (just out of frame in a 1950s little cotton shirtwaist dress) probably thinks that only Campbell's can make soup. It is so much trouble!! Campbell's likes it that way. Keep on buying those cans of condensed saltwater, Mommy! Soup is easy to make, wonderful to eat and so cheap that we should be eating it every day. Make stock, and then make soup with it. A blender makes it so easy to make "cream of leftover cooked vegetables" that you should never buy another can of soup in your life. Come on, Mommy, help that cute little tyke grow some taste buds -- cook some soup.

"Are we poor, Daddy?"
Then what's with the soup?
Soup is good -- and a good way to turn just about anything into a fine meal. Stock (see previous posts) and almost anything edible lurking in the recesses of your ice box can be turned into a good soup. When Sarah was younger, her high school pals asked me for the recipe for "Green Soup." It was hard to confess that "Green Soup" was cooked spinach (never let it go bad -- which it will quickly do -- when you can cook this soup) cooked, seasoned and ground up in the blender with cream and a little vegetable stock. I got a little obsessed with soup when I left Coleman Marine and went on the road selling. I wanted to cook everything and waste nothing. I'll admit, money was tight at first. I did go a little overboard -- not for the first or last time. My daughter Sarah set me straight. "Are we poor, Daddy?"
 What a question from your 5-year-old daughter.

 "No, honey," I answered. I prepared to launch into a speech about Daddy being gone all the time and how hard that must be for her and some real Father Knows Best head-shrinking.

 Sarah cut me short. "Why do we have to eat soup all the time?" Too much reading about Jacques Pepin and his wonderful soup recipes. Time to feed this child a little solid food.

The King of Squid Salad
About the time the young hopeful holding out the bowl for Mommy was was being taught that soup was a vaguely chickeny really salty liquid that was filled with overcooked noodles, James and Sarah were being readied to understand the mysteries of salad. No, not that all-American starter consisting of a few tasteless hunks of iceberg lettuce, nice tennis ball sized red-colored (but really green) tomatoes, dressed with a sweet and heavy pink liquid a little thicker than Pepto and about as tasty. Salad can be lots of different things. Fresh and good, without a formula. Seafood is like that.
We started James off with squid. Calamari is a gift from God, and good for little children. When placed before him, he asked what it was. "Squid." I confess I have not been so honest about everything in life (the birds and bees come to mind). But this was important. "It tastes like french fries." He dipped a piece in his mother's Thousand Island Dressing, the beloved "Pink Gravy" of childhood. The rest is history, and James learned that salad can be lots of things -- many of them seafood. He continued to order "squid salad" at every opportunity.


 The origins of this dish seem mysterious, but really are not. It is like many good things; it just developed based on what good ingredients were available. Use what's good!

Good fish stock, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, really fresh fish -- what could go wrong? Well, using canned condensed consomme, undiluted, is one wrong move. Also, simmering the fish for 20 minutes seems like a little much for this dish.

The name we use for it now probably comes from Boulli (French for boil) and then French for simmer or turn it down. He who names a thing owns it. (Remember -- my name is "Jimbo." It is sometimes hard to be taken seriously with a name like that --- "The 20th century philosopher and thinker 'Jimbo'" ... no, it just does not work.)

The dish is cooked without milk or thickener (This kind of fish soup, chowders made with milk and thickened dishes like gumbo are the three main divisions to my mind). Where did this "boil it up and turn it down" fish soup come from?

Venus and Mars about to do the Big Nasty.

Bouillabaisse is supposed to have been created when the Goddess Venus served it to Vulcan so he would eat too much and go to sleep. While he was sleeping, she was able to get it on with Mars.

That story sounds like the work of an early PR firm to me.

Most popular dishes have some crazy story about how they originated. Some of them are probably true, especially those food stories that have some smart self-promoter of a chef calling his latest creation Seafood Jimbo (OK, Peaches Melba) or something of the sort.

I think (and this is based on no research whatever) that most good dishes are the culmination of a lot of happy accidents in the kitchen and combinations of what was at hand. It is perfectly OK to take this idea and build a good story around it – sticking with the premise that the truth must never get in the way of a good story.

The real story -- how Bouillabaisse was invented

So, here is how Bouillabaisse was really created.
One day two fishermen, Tessio and Clemenza, got lost while fishing far from their Sicilian home. The fishing was not so good off the coast of northern Italy. As they sailed toward southern France they started running out of food, and started eating the catch.
When they would haul in their small purse seine, they would have lots of little fish and a few nice big fish. Sometimes they would find a few shellfish, sometimes not.
They had a few tomatoes (that's why they are named Tessio and Clemenza) and some potatoes. They wished they had a little fennel, but all they had was a little anisette with which they  flavored their coffee.
An actual shot of Tessio and Clemenza
 selling Bouillabaisse. French Seafood 
Restaurant owner with his back to the 
camera is about to steal the recipe.
Anyhow, Tessio said he was hungry. Clemenza – who didn't build his immense figure not knowing how to cook – heated up some seawater on the boat's stove. He tossed the little fish in the seawater to make a very rich stock. He cooked down the tomatoes in olive oil, and flavored the result with garlic. Lacking fennel, he splashed a little anisette into the pan. Then he combined the tomato and potato mixture with the stock, and carefully poached the larger fish in the mixture – big pieces first, little pieces last -- shellfish at the last moment.
Carefully seasoned, Clemenza served it forth. The deckhand, Luca, said it tasted like dishwater and --- well, you know what happened to Luca*.
Tessio and Clemenza landed at a southern French port and served their dish to those standing on the quay. These Frenchmen promptly stole the recipe – like they always do – and the dish has been associated with the French ever since. They hired a PR firm which made up a bunch of stuff about the gods inventing the dish. They also -- in their typical French way -- decreed that the dish could not be "authentic" unless it had at least five different fish in it -- and they had to be fish found only in the waters around the French coast. Tessio and Clemenza shrugged, killed the PR guy, stole his boat and sailed home to Sicily.

If you like the story about the gods inventing the dish better, be my guest. I like mine just fine.
Remember, it does not matter at all. What matters is:
Fresh Fish
NO overcooking
Good Fish Stock
Careful Seasoning.
  *Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.

Let's Cook! 

I took a few liberties with this dish. OK, more than a few. I don't use canned beef broth. It tastes good, but it is not fish stock -- and it is so salty, it makes my feet swell up. Also, I used snapper rather than redfish. Use what you have, and use it fresh!

The original recipe is in red. My foolishness is in black

Do all your prep work first.
1 1lb Red fish cut into 2 inch squares
Use a good fresh non-oily fish. Use as many different kinds of fish as you can. Buy them whole (See previous post on how to buy a fish) and fillet them. Use the heads and bones to make seafood stock. Cut the fish into 2 inch squares. Remove any bloodline or dark areas on the fish fillets. Use fresh fish and a wide variety! Nothing oily! Grill that mackerel and bluefish if you have one!

1 lb raw shrimp peeled and deveined Shell, peel and devein. You can also use mussels, oysters, sea urchin (who am I kidding-- I've never seen a sea urchin), spiny lobster -- whatever you have that is not oily and is fresh.

3 Tbs olive oil Sing together now: Thank heaven for olive oil -- for without it where would little....Oh! I just recalled Maurice Chevalier was a Frenchman. Sorry.

3 onions thickly sliced Can be a pretty strong onion. Save the sweet onions for the next dish.

2 cloves garlic, crushed or 1/4 tsp. garlic puree Unless you are cooking on a space station you should not use garlic puree. Remember, this book was written when you could not get heads of garlic in every grocery (true!). Use the garlic you always keep on your cutting board.
Fillet the fish. This and cutting bread are 
the only things an electric knife is any good for.

1 shallot, snipped I know what a snipped cat is, but I'm not sure what a snipped shallot is. Use one and chop it coarsely.

2 cans condensed consomme undiluted No. Don't do this. Use fish stock.

2 tsp. salt This is the white granular stuff which you should not put in your coffee. That would be the other white granular stuff.

3/4 tsp. pepper Grind it fresh

1 generous dash cayenne Buy little containers of cayenne. The great big ones will lose their punch if they sit around too long.

1 bay leaf in your spice cabinet right next to the garlic powder and Tabasco sauce.

3/4 tsp. dried basil Use fresh
You need a sharp thin knife to skin the fillet
3/4 tsp. dried marjoram Use fresh if you can. Use sliced fennel. In 1961 fennel was a weed that you cut down with a sling-blade. It is great in this dish and necessary if you can get it. If you can't -- I'll show you a trick.

2 cups cooked quartered potatoes Use Yukon Golds or something similar.

1/3 cup dry red wine For extra flavor, Clemenza recommends tossing it into the pot right out of the glass he's drinking -- that's up to you.

1/2 cup minced parsley Use curly parsley

2 tomatoes cut into strips No need to take the seeds out.
Tomatoes. Fresh from the Garden

How to Do it
In oil in dutch oven, saute onions, garlic and shallot for about 10 minutes until tender but not brown. So far so good. Don't brown these ingredients like you did with gumbo. Cook them gently. BUT here add some fresh, if you have it, tomato puree. (Roast ripe tomatoes, take them from the roasting pan with a slotted spoon. Grind them in a blender and remove the skins and seeds with a Foley food mill.) if you have only canned, use that. About 1 cup.  This is where you'll add the fennel if you have it. Slice it thin, from top to bottom.

add consomme, This has got to be a typo in the original. It must say add fish stock, between four to six cups. How much you need depends on how much fish you have. This is not science, but in enough to poach all the fish.

  salt, pepper, cayenne, bay leaf, basil and marjoram. Cover. Heat until boiling. Sure. This will work. Remember, this is seafood -- not oxtails -- boiling for hours is not going to make it any better. Taste and season. Here add a little anisette if you don't have fennel. It will amaze you how it rounds out the flavor of this dish.

Add fish, shrimp and potatoes, cover; simmer about 20 minutes.
Not so fast there, frycook. You've got to poach the fish in the soup, and do it carefully. Don't dump everything in, set the timer for 20 minutes and watch the end of Law & Order. Slower cooking pieces go in first and the quick-cooking things go in last. If you use oysters, they will spend about a minute in the liquid before serving. Add them last.

 Add wine, parsley and tomatoes. Stir gently. Keep warm until ready to serve

1 loaf of French Bread You'll need really firm bread. I like to put a little Rouille (see post on Shrimp for recipe) on top of the bread.
Slice and toast bread. Spoon Bouillabaisse over toasted bread in bowls. Place the seafood in the bowl. Place the bread with the Rouille in the bowl too. Ladle the stock in the bowl without disturbing the seafood. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. It has got to be hot.  Serves 6

 Next -- The Best Salad In The Western World.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post and the dish looks great! Have a great weekend!!!