We started our holiday with a bang. We were going to be spending two weeks by the Mediterranean, the first in Marseille and the second in Barcelona. The timing also coincided with our wedding anniversary and we were going to celebrate it by eating Marseille’s most famous dish – bouillabaisse. After scouring the internet and getting a few recommendations from friends, we settled for Chez Fonfon for lunch on our first full day in the city.

The walk to the Vallon des Auffes, where the restaurant is located, was longer than we expected from the port but we got there in the end (uh…give yourself time!). But when we did, we couldn’t see the restaurant anywhere (we were up at the top on le Corniche du Président-John-Fitzgerald-Kennedy). We should have paid more attention to the location – a vallon is a small valley – and sure enough, there were some stairs that took us down to this beautiful tiny harbour and there was the restaurant!

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Le Vallon des Auffes

We got settled inside the very modern-looking restaurant quickly (that third photo above, that was my view!) and were brought delicious homemade taramasalata with croutons while we perused the all-fish, all-seafood menu. There are no other meats nor are there any vegetarians options from what I could tell. If you’re not a fan of anything that swims, stay away.

Taramasalata

We would share one order of bouillabaisse (there’s no need to order this in advance at Chez Fonfon – it’s so popular and they always have it everyday) and one of their fishes of the day, grilled with a side of our choice. The waitress ran to the kitchen to bring over a basket of the fishes they had available – there were red mullets, and a couple of fishes I didn’t recognise. After we asked for a recommendation, she suggested that the sea bream would be best grilled and we went with that, with panisses on the side. While we waited, we were again shown another basket of fish; this time, this was the selection of four fishes that would play a part in the bouillabaise.

After we had made our selections, we were brought an amuse – melon gazpacho, a lovely way to chill out that hot day. We appreciated having the windows open in the dining room as well; it was a hot day.

Melon Gazpacho

The grilled sea bream came first – it was presented to us tableside where a waiter filleted it. On the side were lemon, olive oil and a lovely generous bowlful of homemade tartar sauce (I hate it when you have to make do with a tiny ramekin’s worth). The fish was gorgeously fresh and so delicious just with a squeeze of lemon. The panisses on the side (made of chickpea flour) were lightly crisp on the outside, soft and moist on the inside, and surprisingly filling.

Filletting

Filleted Grilled Sea Bream

Tartar Sauce

Panisses

The sauces for the bouillabaise were already at our table; there was an aioli and the classic rust-coloured rouille. They did forget the croutons though and we had to ask for them – these are essential! A soup bowl was set down before me and a waiter came by with a large tureen and ladled a very dark fish broth into the bowl. By itself, it’s a great, flavorful fish broth, very dark and rich and comforting. But it really comes alive when you smear some of spicy and garlicky rouille on a crouton and float that baby in that bowl. Ah… I drank a lot of that soup. And we could have as much of the broth as we wished – that tureen kept making the rounds of the tables.

Aioli and Rouille

Bouillabaisse Broth

With Crouton and Rouille

The fish from the bouillabaisse was presented alongside not long after, on a bed of potatoes that had also been boiled in the broth. You could tell there were four different types though I can’t remember them all for the life of me. It was fun trying the different textures from the different species. Anyway, you eat the fish and you eat the potatoes and then if you’re like me, you try to fit in as much soup, croutons and rouille as you can.

Bouillabaisse Fish

After all that fish and soup, I could barely even think about dessert. What a shame, as their dessert menu was full of delicious sounding things! Chocolate fondant with a chestnut heart? Dammit – no space!  Blai found space for a selection of their delicious sorbets though. Their fruit flavours were just about perfect – I suspect they’re all homemade.

Sorbets

I just got a coffee which came presented with these excellent little sweets – delicious fruit jellies, orangettes and two types of calisson – regular (white) and rose-scented (pink). A sweet yet light (and caffeinated) end to the meal.

Sweets

Of course, this could hardly be called a budget lunch. The total was about €120, including mineral water and service. But then, this was an occasion that required something rather grand and I think we got it. Happy anniversary, my love!

Chez Fonfon
140 Rue du Vallon des Auffes
13007 Marseille
France

Bookings are essential.

Did you watch the BBC series Italy Unpacked where Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon travel together around Italy, looking at gorgeous Italian art and eating gorgeous Italian food (their first series together was Sicily Unpacked)? Yeah, two of my favourite activities, together at last. On one recent programme, they traveled to Livorno, on the coast of Tuscany, and there Locatelli cooked an incredible looking fish stew from that city. The video clip where Locatelli cooks this cacciucco can be seen here. You can see why I suddenly felt the need to make one of these fish stews the next day.

The story goes that you want at least five different types of fishes in this stew, one for each ‘C’ in the word ‘cacciucco'; Locatelli mentioned 17 in the programme but this seems a bit over the top for just two or four people! Use as many as you can get – it’ll still taste great with just two or three different types of seafood. After referring again to the video and then to online recipes, I came up with the recipe below. It’s super easy; it’s only a bit of a pain getting the variety of fish unless you have a great fishmonger nearby.

Cacciucco

Cephalopods are first cooked in a base of wine, tomato and fish broth and after their long stewing, the fishes then spend a grand total of five to ten minutes in their delicious bath to ensure that they’re not overcooked. The finished dish is full of flavour and would make a great dinner party dish as it’s quite the showstopper coming to the table. Do make sure to serve it with lots of bread to soak up the lovely broth.

Cacciucco
serves 4.

2 tbsps olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large pinches of dried chilli flakes
3 tbsps tomato paste
about a glass of red wine

1 large squid, cleaned and cut into pieces
a handful of whole prawns
assorted other fishes – I used a chunk of monkfish, the tail end of some pollack, a couple of jacks (excellent) and a small red snapper

Fishes

For fish stock:
1 onion, cut in large chunks
1 carrot, cut in large chunks
1 bay leaf
parsley stems
fish trimmings
(or 1-2 cups fish stock)

For serving:
thick slices of a good white bread (a baguette will do)
a large clove of garlic
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

First, make your fish stock. I include a quick recipe for it here but if you’ve already got fish stock, by all means, please use it! In a pot, place your onion, bay leaf, parsley stems and fish trimmings (I used trimmings from the fish I was going to use in my cacciucco and the prawn heads). Pour over about 2-3 cups water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and continue stirring for another minute. Add the squid and saute for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and fry until it darkens slightly. Pour in the wine and let it bubble way for a bit for the alcohol to dissipate. Pour in the fish stock (I used about 2 cups) and bring to boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and let simmer away for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes are up, it’s time to cook the fish! Place in the whole and larger meatier fishes first, let them have a little time in there, and add the rest of the fishes/prawns in stages. When everything is just cooked, turn off the heat.

Cacciucco Bubbling Away

Toast the bread and rub both sides with the garlic. Lay in a single layer in a serving dish. Carefully pile up the seafood onto the bread and spoon over the broth, making sure all that bread is soaked. Sprinkle with parsley if you have it.

Toasted Bread with Garlic

Serve with more of the broth on the side (dunking extra bread in it is so good).

Cacciucco

I spent a day at the Scandinavian Christmas fair late last month with Jeanne from Cooksister (the same as featured here last year and Jeanne wrote about our visit this year) and one of the many delicious things we tasted was a Norwegian fish ball soup, all hot and creamy and just the thing for the cold day. Once I got home, the memory of that soup stayed with me and I knew I had to recreate it!

Norwegian Fish Soup

It turns out fish soup is incredibly quick to put together and perfect for a cold winter’s night. As salmon was on offer at our supermarket, I only used that but you could mix and match with a number of fishes; prawns would be good too. It’s wonderfully creamy and filling and I only wonder why I’d not made it before. There are similar soups served in Sweden and Finland and I now hope to investigate the differences between them all.

Norwegian Fish Soup
serves 4.

2 large carrots
1 large leek
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cups fish stock (I used a bouillon cube)
1 large potato
500g salmon fillets
100-150ml double cream
fresh dill
salt and white pepper
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Peel and cut the carrots into chunks. Clean the leeks (slice them lengthwise), trim anything too tough and slice into 1cm half circles. Heat a pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and cook the carrots for a few minutes. Add the leeks and continue cooking until the leeks start to soften. Pour in the fish stock and bring to a boil. Peel the potato and cut into small chunks. Lower the heat, add the potato and let the whole thing simmer until the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile, cut the salmon fillets into large chunks – not too small or they’ll just fall apart in the soup later. Add the salmon chunks into the soup when the vegetables are soft. Stir gently. When the fish is cooked through, pour in the double cream and continue to simmer it all together for a few minutes (don’t bring it to a boil). Salt and pepper the soup to taste and stir through the Worcestershire sauce. Finally, add as much dill as you wish and serve with lots of crusty bread and perhaps a salad on the side.

Someone told me last year that I should try Senegalese food. I’ve not yet found a restaurant serving the food of Senegal in London yet but imagine my delight when an article on the country’s cuisine appeared in last month’s Saveur. Flipping through the article, it all sounded good – black eyed pea fritters, peanut and chicken stew, an okra and seafood stew (that’s next)…but what I had eyes for was the Thiéboudienne, a rice and fish dish served communally. That’s what I chose to make one weekend.

Thiéboudienne

I’ll be honest with you – I knew very little about Senegal, let alone Senegalese cuisine. The official language in these western African country is French though there are other African languages that are also recognised. One is Wolof, the language of the Wolof people, and the name of this dish comes from the Wolof for rice (ceen) and fish (jën) and the Wolof name for the dish is Ceebu Jën. Kinda like Thiéboudienne if you mumble it and put a French accent on it. The country’s location on the coast means that seafood is a big part of their diet and this fish and rice dish is actually the national dish.

Apart from the fish and rice, there’s a whole selection of vegetables cooked in the same pot too. My thiéboudienne was missing the dried smoked fish that gives it a bit of funk; I just used some Asian fish sauce which I’ve read is used as a shortcut anyway in Senegal. The giant platter of spiced rice, boiled fish and vegetables was delicious and comforting. Despite the inclusion of quite a bit of tomato paste, it isn’t too tomatoey and was someone tangy from the tamarind. Thumbs up to my first Senegalese experience at home!

Fish

Thiéboudienne
serves 2 (with leftovers) – 4.

a thick fillet of meaty white fish per person – I used red snapper

for every two fillets
1 clove garlic
small handful flat leaf parsley
1/4 small onion
2 spring onions
salt
freshly ground pepper

3 tbsps sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
100g tomato paste
650 ml vegetable stock (I used bouillon powder)

3 small carrots, cut in large chunks
1/2 medium aubergine, cut in large chunks
10 okra
1 medium potato, cut in large chunks
1/2 small Savoy cabbage, cut in large wedges

1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp tamarind paste

1.5 cups basmati rice, washed

First prepare the filling for the fish. Chop the ingredients for the filling together very finely (I used my trusty mini chopper). Slash the fillets deeply on one side and stuff these cuts with the filling as best you can. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to about 120C.

Heat a large pot or casserole over medium heat and when hot, add the oil (palm oil is traditional but I used sunflower instead) and fry the fish fillets on both sides until almost cooked. Take them out and set aside.

In the same oil, fry the chopped onion and green pepper. When the vegetables are soft, add the tomato paste and fry, stirring constantly, until it has darkened – this will take a few minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat so that the mixture is simmering and gently lower in the fillets. When they are fully cooked, fish them out carefully with a slotted spoon and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover loosely with aluminium foil and place in the oven to keep warm.

Add the vegetables and cook slowly until they are tender – anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and fish out the vegetables when they’re cooked, placing them in the same ovenproof dish as the fish (and keeping them all in the oven to keep warm).

When all the vegetables have been cooked and have been removed, add the fish sauce and tamarind paste and stir to combine. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Add some water if it has reduced too much – you want about 500-600ml of liquid remaining. Add the rice, stir well and slap a lid on the pot.

Leave to simmer for about 15-20 minutes. After this time, your rice should be cooked and you probably have the makings of xooñ (the crispy bits at the bottom of the pot).

Fluff the rice with a fork and pile it all onto a large platter. Scrape any xooñ from the bottom of the pot and scatter it over the rice. Arrange the vegetables and fish on top and serve.

This dish really hit the spot last week. It’s getting cold, people, and I want warm food to fill my belly every night. Rice is something I do crave from time to time and nothing says weekday dinner like a one pot dish on top of white rice. Well, to me at least. That and pasta.

Fish Fillets with Scrambled Egg on Rice

Anyway, you might recognise this dish as being a direct copy of what my brother ate at Taste of China in Leicester. Yup, I recreated the fish fillets with scrambled egg at home and it turns out it’s quite easy. The dish comes together as you’re cooking the rice and voila, dinner in 30 minutes with not much thinking involved. I find it odd that Chinese restaurants call it scrambled egg when I think of it more as an eggy sauce. I used two eggs here but you could definitely get away with one. Peas were added to make it a proper meal in one with vegetables. If you don’t want to use fish, you could use another meat or some leftovers or a mixture of other vegetables too; it’s quite a versatile sauce. Of course, it’s quite a delicately flavoured dish and if you need some pep, eat it with lots of chili oil!

(I’ve just discovered there’s a lot of similarity between this dish and another called mui fan, a seafood/meat/vegetables mixture in an eggy sauce on rice. Just add anything you like in there; it’s a great catch-all dish. If you are going this route, try sauteing some garlic first before adding the stock. Mmmmm….)

Fish Fillets with Scrambled Egg on Rice
serves 2.

2 fillets of a white fish like cod (I think I used coley)
600mL chicken stock (or vegetable, fresh or from a cube)
1 tbsp soy sauce
a handful or two of frozen petit pois
2 spring onions, chopped
1-2 eggs
salt and white pepper to taste
cornstarch to thicken
sesame oil
hot, cooked white rice for two

Pour the stock and soy sauce into a large saute pan and bring it to a boil. Add the petit pois and bring the stock back up to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the peas simmer until almost fully cooked. Meanwhile, cut the fish fillets into pieces and slip them into the pan when the peas are ready.

Beat the eggs well and when the fish has just cooked through, pour them into the saute pan, stirring all the while so that you end up with a kind of egg drop soup rather than chunks of cooked egg. You should have threads of egg throughout the broth and if you used 2 eggs, the broth will have thickened somewhat. Season with salt and white pepper and finally, use enough of a cornstarch slurry to thicken to your liking. Scatter the chopped spring onions on top and let the heat wilt them a little.

Drizzle with a few drops of sesame oil and pour on top of white rice. Serve immediately.

When we’ve been eating out more than usual, cravings for plain simple food, preferably home-cooked, take over. That happened last weekend and it was fish we wanted. And so it was off to our local fishmonger in the morning to see what was available and good. I’d originally wanted bream but when I saw the mackerel, I knew what I wanted to do with it. Two mackerel please, filleted.

At home, I set some rice cooking and started making a chayote and carrot salad with a Thai-inspired dressing. I then mixed together the ingredients for a glaze for the fish, which I fried very simply with just a little salt. The glaze was then simmered together until it thickened. By this time, the rice was cooked so in our bowls went rice, a fried fish fillet on top, some of the salad next to it, and the glaze served in a small bowl alongside.

Mackerel with a Soy-Honey Glaze

This was just what we needed – simple food and as a bonus, it’s all put together very quickly. And what a great combination it was too – the ginger in the glaze went very well with the strong flavours of the mackerel and the mackerel, though cooked so simply, was moist and tender with a very crispy skin. The salad was refreshing and it turns out that chayote is a pretty good substitute for green papaya!

Mackerel with a Soy-Honey Glaze

Mackerel Fillets with Soy-Honey Glaze
serves 2.

4 mackerel fillets (from 2 fish)
1 tsp sunflower oil
salt

For the glaze
3 heaping tsps honey
2 tbsps soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp grated ginger

Combine the glaze ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat and then add the teaspoonful of oil. Use some kitchen paper to dry the fillets as best possible and then slide them skin side down into the pan (I did two at a time). Cook for 3 minutes without moving them. Sprinkle the tops with some salt and then flip the fillets and continue cooking for another 3 minutes without moving. Plate or set aside.

Pour out any excess oil and wipe down the pan if possible. Place it back over the heat and then pour in the glaze ingredients. Bubble away until reduced by half and then either pour into a bowl for serving or drizzle onto the fish if it’s being served immediately.

Chayote and Carrot Salad
serves 2 as a side.

1 chayote
1 medium carrot
a few sprigs of coriander

For the dressing
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chili-garlic paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp warm water

Peel both the chayote and the carrot. Shred or grate both into a bowl (leave the middle of the chayote – there’s a seed, I think). Stir together the dressing ingredients and add as much as you please to the salad. Chop the coriander roughly, add to the bowl and toss together. Serve.

One more week and then all the hysteria at work will come to a head and it’ll all be over. Stupid deadlines. In the meantime, yet another recipe that I’ve been storing for a rainy day. This one satisfies one of my new year’s resolutions: to eat more fish. I don’t take advantage of my local fishmonger enough and to correct this, that day, I stepped in and bought two individual portion-sized sea bass, cleaned and ready to cook.

Sea Bass

Only, of course, I had no idea what to do with them; I’m quite clueless and intimidated when it comes to fish. Growing up, my mother fried fish often but frying and the eventual stink were just not needed in our tiny flat. But I’ve recently realised that the oven is a great place for a fishy to sit before dinner. A look around the BBC Good Food website came up with this recipe of baked sea bass with roasted vegetables though I’ve simplified things a bit. The original had you whizz up half the vegetables with vinegar and nuts to make a romesco sauce but I just incorporated some of the ingredients straight into the roasting tin. It’s easier! And the roasting really improves the flavour of tasteless winter vegetables. Yes, I know we should all be shopping seasonally but sometimes you just need a tomato. And a red pepper.

Baked Sea Bass with Roasted Vegetables

Baked Sea Bass with Roasted Vegetables
adapted from a BBC Good Food magazine recipe.
serves 2.

2 sea bass, of individual portion size, cleaned and left whole
1/2 a lemon, thinly sliced
2 large red peppers
1 large red onion
5 small tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsps olive oil
a handful of toasted hazelnuts

Preheat your oven to 220C.

Clean and trim the red peppers and cut into large chunks. Peel and trim the red onion and cut into thin wedges. Cut the tomatoes in half around their equators. Toss all these vegetables and the garlic cloves into a roasting tray and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and 2 tbsps of olive oil. Place in the oven to roast for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Slash the skin of the fish about 3-4 times each side. Stuff the sliced lemon into their cleaned bellies too.

After the first 25 minutes, take the tray out of the oven and sprinkled over 1/2 the thyme onto the vegetables. Lay the fish on top of the roasting vegetables, sprinkle over the remainder of the thyme and then drizzle over the remaining olive oil. Put back in the oven and continue roasting for 20 minutes.

Roughly chop the roasted hazelnuts.

Take out the roasting tray, plate the fish, sprinkle the hazelnuts over the roasted vegetables, and then plate them too alongside the fish. Serve.

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