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A Seafood Stew With International Superfans
Anatomy of a dish
In his book, Fish & Shellfish, author James Peterson writes that purists insist it’s impossible to make an authentic bouillabaisse unless you live within a kilometer or two of the Mediterranean; yet people do, and they love it, even if it’s not as of-the-place as the version served seaside in Marseille.
Brothy and aromatic, the seafood stew served with bread and rouille is a winter favorite at brasseries just about anywhere, especially around New York. If COVID has you on the fence about dining indoors, a good compromise is an outdoor seat and a warming bowl of bouillabaisse.
You’ll find it at restaurants like Marseille (630 9th Ave.) —named for the city that made bouillabaisse famous—where Daniel Drexler has been running the kitchen for a little over a year, following a five-year stretch with David Bouley. While Drexler may be newish, Marseille has been a neighborhood anchor for almost 20 years, a longtime sibling to Nice Matin on the Upper West Side, along with Nizza (the Italian name for Nice) in the Theater District and 5 Napkin Burger (multiple locations) from chef-partner Andy D’Amico.
When Drexler arrived last October, the season suggested he bring bouillabaisse back to the menu. It was resurrected again this year with the change of seasons and is now available in small ($19) classic ($39), and grande that serves two and costs $85.
It takes Drexler two days to make the stock, which starts with lobster heads and fish bones, fennel, onion, and other vegetables, as well as saffron and coriander. Paprika and tomato paste are joined by Pernod, followed by white wine, orange peels, rosemary, and thyme.
Day two is a repeat process with fewer ingredients, then the stock is reduced by half, and “everything is passed through a food mill.” Once it’s ready, there’s the most important part — the seafood — which includes mussels, monkfish or bass, and shrimp for the smallest version, with the addition of branzino, clams, sometimes scallops, and lobster for the largest. Traditionally bouillabaisse is seven kinds of fish, writes Peterson, “but even in Marseille it’s unusual to find all seven at the same time at least at the same fish market.”
Other places you’ll find bouillabaisse may be fewer and farther between than pre-COVID, in part because it’s so much work and there are fewer hands in the restaurant industry. A good bet is Fridays at Balthazar in Soho and at Le Gigot in the West Village.