Headed up by chef Alex Jackson, former head chef at Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen and Rotorino, Sardine champions Southern French. Off City Road in Islington, the restaurant has hosted a series of ‘La Grande Bouffe’ dinners this year; serving celebratory menus from Alex in collaboration with various chefs, ultimately paying tribute to the best in Southern French cooking. A traditional Provençal dish, originating from the port city of Marseille, Bouillabaisse was the centre piece of the restaurant’s most recent ‘La Grande Bouffe’ dinner: a stew originally made by Marseille fishermen, using unpopular bony rockfish. Featuring a school of several fish, Alex Jackson has shared the recipe for his Bouillabaisse, which is relatively simple to follow at home.
“This is the Grande Dame of fish stews. It’s a riot of many fish, shellfish, ripe tomatoes, wild fennel and saffron, served in two parts. First comes the rich broth, with croutons and rouille, the spicy, garlicky, saffron-spiked mayonnaise, then the fish and potatoes cooked in the stock.
“This recipe is simpler than it might look but it does take a while. Due to the variety of fish required I would recommend making it for a minimum of eight people. If you are only going to use the bones of one or two fish I would enthusiastically recommend Gurnard and Red Mullet, as these by far make the best broth.”
Makes enough for 8 people
The fish and shellfish
“Buy whatever is available and good. I would say Gurnard and Red Mullet are musts, as well as the octopus and mussels, but the other fish can be varied according to what’s around.”
1 x Small Crab (this will be smashed up so try to buy cheap, crippled crabs if possible)
500g Red mullet, filleted, head and bones reserved, gills removed and washed
500g Gurnard, filleted, head and bones reserved, gills removed and washed
400g John Dory, filleted
400g Bream, filleted
Monkfish Tail Fillet, 400g
Hake Fillet, 400g
1kg Mussels, cleaned
1 x small Octopus, washed
To marinate the fish
1 small pinch saffron
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
For the broth
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
1/2 head celery, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, smashed up a bit
1 bulb Florence fennel, roughly chopped
1 handful Wild Fennel Stalks, if available, roughly chopped
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp fennel seeds
The peel from ½ orange, ideally dried, but fresh is fine
1 dried Spanish chilli, stalk and seeds removed
1 tsp good quality saffron
1kg ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 bottle dry white wine
Big glug of brandy
Big glug of pastis
For the potatoes and croutons
1kg waxy red potatoes (such as Desiree), peeled, cut into chunks
½ of a day-old crusty baguette, sliced thinly
For the Rouille
1 fat or 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled, green sprout removed
2 egg yolks
4 salted anchovy fillets
2 tbsp fresh bread (crust removed)
A small pinch of saffron
½ tsp powdered cayenne
100ml olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
To make the broth
Heat the oil in a big pot and add the onion, celery, garlic, fennel, fennel stalks (if using), bay and thyme. Season with a big pinch of salt. Fry the vegetables on a medium heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Add all the other ingredients apart from the saffron and tomatoes, lower the heat to medium/low and continue to cook for another 20 minutes, or until everything is quite soft, has taken on only a little colour and is smelling excellent. Add the saffron, stir well, and cook over a low heat for another 5 minutes.
Kill the crab, if not dead already, by spiking the hole under the flap on the underneath of its body. Smash up the crab with a pestle or a heavy rolling pin. Add the smashed crab, shell, juices and all, to the pot. Fry the crab with the vegetables over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the rich crab shell flavour starts to make itself known. Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir well to mix. Cook for a few minutes while you gather the fish bones.
Add the cleaned, gilled fish heads and bones to the pot. Smash them up with your implement until you have a delicious mulch of bones, tomatoes, saffron and oil. To this mulch add the white wine, brandy and pastis, then water to top it up – enough water so there’s enough broth, but remember the more water you add here, the less powerful the broth will be, so get it right!
Bring the Bouillabaisse to the boil, then turn down to a fast simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Skim the broth to remove any impurities. Add half the mussels to the pot. They will boil and overcook, but will give up their tasty juices and enrich the broth nicely. Taste the broth. It should taste full, rounded and something approaching delicious. If not, continue to cook and reduce slightly until you are happy that a good flavour is under the surface.
Strain the broth. Squish the mulch with something sturdy to encourage it to release all the broth. Rinse out the pot if there are any nasty bits left inside, and return the strained broth to the pot. Put the cleaned octopus in the broth and bring slowly to the boil, then simmer the octopus for around half an hour, or until cooked but not mushy. Remove the octopus, cut into appropriate pieces and reserve. Taste the broth carefully for seasoning – by now it should be utterly delicious. Set the broth aside – this can happily be made a day ahead.
To marinate the fish
Cut the (filleted) fish into bite size pieces, there should be one nice piece of each fish per person. Put it in a bowl and add the saffron, crushed garlic, chopped parsley and olive oil. Stir well to mix.
To make the Rouille
Completely soak the bread in a little of the hot bouillabaisse broth, then allow to cool.
Crush the garlic, with a little salt, to a fine white paste in the pestle and mortar. Add the anchovy fillets, saffron and broth-soaked bread, and pound to a thick paste. Add the egg yolks and cayenne pepper, and emulsify as best you can. Start to add the olive oil very slowly – at first drop by drop, then in a slow stream. As the emulsion starts to thicken, add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar, and a few of water, then continue with the oil. It’s important to add the lemon, vinegar and water gradually as this will help it not to split. When all the oil is used up, taste the sauce for salt and acid, trying to find a nice balance.
A Rouille, stabilised with bread and anchovy, is harder to split than an Aïoli, but I have managed it.
For the potatoes
Pour some of the broth off into a smaller pot and boil the potatoes in this. For those worried about not having enough broth, a little half broth/half water arrangement is fine. Try not to overcook.
For the croutons
Lay the thinly sliced baguette on a tray and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake at 150C for 10 minutes or until golden brown and crunchy.
To cook the fish and serve
Season the marinated fish with salt. Poach the fish in the broth at a gentle simmer for around 5 minutes, turning once if necessary. Add the mussels and (cooked, chopped) octopus towards the end – they need about a minute or two to cook and heat through.
If you are worried about smashing the fish or not having enough space, poach the fish in batches according to size of morsel, species and firmness: monkfish or gurnard, for example, will hold their shape more easily than others, and could be done first and kept warm.
Remove the fish from the broth and keep warm. Bring the broth briefly to a fast, rolling boil, then pour into bowls, piping hot. Serve the broth first, with bowls of Rouille and croutons to float on top.
As your guest coo over the broth, bring over a platter of cooked fish and shellfish, arranged artfully by species on a huge platter. The cooked fish should be moistened with broth to keep it warm and juicy. Bring also the warm potatoes to complete the picture. There should be much hot broth in reserve for top-ups.
Further information on Sardine can be found here.