The first bouillabaisse in a new home is always special for us. It marks the point at which we've discovered the best place to buy fish locally, and the first time we've been bothered to make a dish which requires the rather labourious task of making rouille. (For the unenlightened - this involves adding a cup of olive oil to some egg'n'stuff, drop by drop. It can easily take half an hour, and that's just to make what is essentially a condiment.)
Back in the days when we lived like there was no tomorrow, bouillabaisse was an extravagant affair. Perhaps that's why it evolved to become the signature dish of our relationship. We'd pony up to the fish counter at Bristol Farms, or Ralphs and pick out several different white fish, some scallops, a dozen clams, and perhaps some king prawn or lobster tail to top it off. We sort of lost sight of the dish's humble roots as a way of using up leftover fish, with items a Marseillais fishwife couldn't even dream of. When we moved to New York, within spitting distance of the Lobster Place with its mile long slab of marble laden with fresh fish, we started throwing in things like baby octopus, and fresh crab meat too.
Well, reality has bit since then and we take a rather more restrained approach. We've got a baby to keep in ribbons and shoes after all. We rarely add lobster tail and are not above bulking the dish out with tinned crab, or even pilchards. Still, we always start with quality fresh fish.
Just about the only thing Saltburn lacks (besides a decent cocktail bar) is a fishmongers. But our corner shop is a treasure trove of local produce, and gets a weekly order of fish in from a local fishmonger. Order by Wednesday lunchtime and by Friday afternoon Picknetts of Redcar will have delivered your selection.
When I say 'your selection' I mean the items you chose from a rather limited range of options. Which means no squid, for that was not on the list. Still, we ordered a dozen mussels as well as some white fish.
Imagine our disappointment when this is how the mussels appeared:
'Dead' mussels, out of their shells, kinda takes the fun out of adding them to stew.
Never mind, they were cheap. And we learned our lesson: next time, specify 'in their shells'. Or better yet, make the 10 minute journey into Redcar and pick the stuff ourself. Easy fix, that one.
It wasn't our finest bouillabaisse ever. But it was a very good start for our new home. Here's to many more - maybe next time our shellfish will be in their shells too.