The spelling varies, and along with it the origins, but…
A delicious fish stew, bouillabaise derives from a cooking technique that breaks down into two words: we start with the French verb bouillir to boil. We then add to it the verb for “reduce” — abaisser — and the concept becomes a fish stock that has been cooked down and reduced to a stew: bouillabaise.
The boiling technique is critical.
While we might gently simmer our stocks, with bouillabaise (which hails from places such as Provencal and the region between Marseilles and Toulon) the liquid — which classically includes quite a bit of olive oil — must be violently boiled for as long as 10 minutes in order to emulsify the oil into fine droplets coated with the fat and gelatins from fish bones and scraps.
This action contributes to a sort of creaminess in the soup. Traditionalists will say boil for 7-8 minutes only: a bouillabaise is best cooked as quickly as possible, and not more than 15 minutes, they add.
Not pictured above, but at Miijidaa in downtown Guelph, Chef Shea Robinson prepares bouillabaisse with salmon, smoked arctic char, mussels, tomato and fennel broth, fresh herbs and toast. I don’t know how fiercely the stew is boiled.[ Image/Raymund Macaalay ]