Classic French stew during cold Chicago winter

January 11, 2008 1:18:05 PM PST
Every Friday in January, ABC7's Hungry Hound is celebrating soups from around the world. This week, he is off to France where he's found an authentic version of bouillabaisse - the classic fisherman's stew.West Town has a number of good restaurants, most of which are very close to Harpo studios. Directly across the street from the studios is La Sardine, a casual French bistro where they offer bouillabaisse all year round.

The hearty seafood soup is especially good during the winter, when most Chicagoans could use a little getaway to the south of France.

La Sardine's Jean Claude Poilevey says he also will occasionally offer bouillabaisse at his other restaurant, Le Bouchon in Bucktown.

Bouillabaisse is recreated with exacting standards at La Sardine, a casual bistro in River West where fisherman's stew can take on different appearances.

"It can be very fancy, or very simple. It doesn't really matter," said Poilevey.

The most labor-intensive part is making the stock. It starts with the usual suspects: celery, onions, fresh thyme and carrots, also a few bay leaves and black peppercorns, plus a few tablespoons of paprika.

After some vigorous sauteeing, the French accents kick in.

"Tomato, of course, because in the Riviera, there's tons of tomato they don't know what to do; garlic, because there's a lot of garlic; fennel, for the perfume of the anise perfume; and fish bones, to make, otherwise your stock is going to be very weak," Poilevey said.

Some French white wine doesn't hurt the mix, and finally, enough water to cover everything. The mixture boils rapidly, then simmers for about 45 minutes. At this point, the stock is strained through two chinois', or strainers. The intense liquid is reserved for the actual soup, while everything else is discarded.

Out in the front kitchen, that reserved liquid is heated slowly, along with a bevy of seafood: whitefish, monkfish, mahi, scallops, calamari, shrimp, plus, lobster and clams and some coarsely chopped tomatoes. It's covered for just a few minutes, until the shellfish open.

To serve, the seafood goes in the bowl first - with the aid of a slotted spoon - then finally, the rich, intense broth is ladled over the top. Two slabs of toast are coated in a saffron-laced rouille, consisting of mashed potato, garlic and olive oil. They make the most perfect dipping utensils to ever grace a bowl of fisherman's stew.

"People love bouillabaisse," said Poilevey.

La Sardine

111 N. Carpenter St.

312-421-2800

Jean-Claude's other restaurant:

Le Bouchon

1958 N. Damen Ave.

773-862-6600

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