Purists, like chef Asaf Doctor, prepare this soup only when the sea offers rascasse fish — usually between March and April, if we’re lucky. This is the fish traditionally used for making bouillabaisse. “It is rich in gelatin and its bones are full of flavor, so if the rascasse is not available, we simply do not make a bouillabaisse,” the chef concludes.
A softer approach suggests substituting the fish with Spanish mackerel or amberjack; the flavor is not exactly true to the original recipe, but the result is delicious. Ask your fishmonger to clean the fish and shrimp, and remember to ask for the fishbones and heads (including the shrimp).
3 large white onions, cut into 1.2 inches / 3-cm cubes
1 cup arak
1 cup white wine
6 fresh bay leaves
1 bunch parsley, tied as a bouquet
For the soup:
2 cuttlefish, cleaned and cut into 1.2 inch / 3-cm cubes
15 large Crystal or Gamberi shrimps with the tail, cleaned (reserve the heads)
10 fresh calamari, cleaned, heads removed and cut into 1.2 inch / 3-cm rings (reserve the heads)
¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
1-2 lemons, quartered
Roast the fish: Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C and line a tray with parchment paper. Place the fish bones and heads in the tray, sprinkle the herbs atop and roast for 2 hours. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the stock: Squeeze the crab meat into a bowl. Set the empty shells aside, together with the seafood shells and heads.
Puree the cherry tomatoes and garlic in a food processor and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large and wide 10.5-quart / 10-liter stock pot. Add the carrots, fennel, leek, and onions and fry over a medium heat 15-20 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the vegetables are nicely brown.
Add the crab shells and seafood heads and shells, mix well and cook over a medium heat for 8 minutes, until the crab shells turn bright red.
Add the cherry tomato and garlic puree, increase to a high heat and cook for about 7 minutes, until the liquids are reduced. Add the wine and arak and carefully bring a lit lighter to the surface of the liquid and set aflame. The flames will die out on their own as soon as the alcohol evaporates. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the roast fish bones and cover with water almost to the edge of the pot. Bring to a boil. Use a spoon to skim the scum that has formed on top and reduce to a low heat. Cook, uncovered, over a gentle simmer for 1½ hours.
Add the bay leaves and the parsley bunch and cook for another 1½ hours. Be careful that the liquid doesn’t reduce by more than a third. If it does, add more water. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish and seafood bones and shells. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup in a few short pulses, just to break apart some of the vegetables. Strain the soup in several cycles through a dense strainer into a clean pot. Press any remaining residue in the strainer with a ladle to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
To assemble the soup: Heat the strained soup over a medium-high heat, taste and season with salt to your taste. Reduce to a low heat, add the cuttlefish and cook for about 20 minutes over a gentle simmer.
Cut the fish fillets into 2-inch / 5-cm cubes and add to the soup. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the shrimp, calamari and crab meat, cook for another 2 minutes and turn off the heat.
Pour the bouillabaisse into wide serving bowls, garnish with a little olive oil and parsley leaves and serve with a quartered lemon to squeeze.