Eric Akis: Bouillabaisse with a twist

Eric Akis

My wife and I recently attended our friends Lois and Evan’s wedding and decided to turn that two-day affair into an eight-day, fine-food-rich holiday.

The wedding was in Hamilton, but before going there, we spent a night in Toronto and dined at F’Amelia. This cosy Cabbagetown restaurant was a nice place to reconnect with family we met there.

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We shared antipasto and then had entrées, mine being pappardelle pasta with succulent braised rabbit.

The next morning, we visited historic St. Lawrence Market. Our mission there was to eat breakfast at Carousel Bakery, renowned for its peameal bacon sandwiches. It’s been a while since I had one and they are still delicious.

We then headed off to Hamilton. The wedding festivities kicked off with a rehearsal dinner at the stone-walled University Club at McMaster University. The wedding took place the next evening at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

In between those events, we had time to explore the city and I was impressed by the number of new and bustling eateries downtown. One we dined at was The French, a smartly designed bistro. My wife and a friend couldn’t resist the flat iron steak and frites. I opted for the braised beef cheek served on spaetzle, sumptuous comfort food perfect for that rainy day.

After leaving Hamilton, we visited our semi-retired chef- and pastry chef-friends Kevin and Laura in their new lakeside home in Picton, Ont.

I say semi-retired because the couple now seasonally operates Cedarviews B&B. Kevin cooked us some of the new breakfast dishes they plan to serve when they open again in the spring, including poached eggs on Ontario pickerel cakes topped with hollandaise. He also filled our plates with his awesome house-made bacon and sausages, items he’s been successfully trying to perfect.

Picton is located in scenic Prince Edward County, which has become a top culinary destination. We did a day trip around the area, including sampling wine at two of Kevin’s favourite wineries, Domaine Darius and Stanners Vineyard, and having a lovely lunch at Drake Devonshire Inn in nearby Wellington.

It was a magical day and that happy feeling continued the next morning, when my wife and I caught the train in Belleville and traveled to Montreal.

Our niece Gillian met us and we had lunch at the just-opened Marché Artisans in the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, a short walk from the train station. It’s described as an urban market and offers takeout dishes, on-site consumption and exclusive fine-food products. In other words, it’s a place foodies will love.

In Montreal, we also visited Jean-Talon and Atwater Markets, great places to people-watch and see what foods are popular in that part of Canada.

We had memorable dining experiences at Swartz’s Deli, where we devoured their famous Montreal-style smoked-meat sandwiches, and at Au Pied de Couchon, where, among other tasty things, we had foie gras sushi and wicked maple syrup ice cream.

Our favourite meal, though, was at Liverpool House, owned by the folks who also operate Montreal’s well-known Joe Beef restaurant.

We started our meal by sharing small plates of scallops with sea urchin cream and rainbow trout gravlax. We then shared an entrée designed for two called chicken bouillabaisse. It came in a large casserole and contained pieces of juicy chicken surrounded by saucy pieces of lobster, scallops and clams.

It was so good, I wanted to try to replicate the dish at home and today’s recipe is the result. My version is not quite as refined as the one served at Liverpool House. But it is very tasty and very much a special-occasion dish to serve during the holidays.

Chicken Bouillabaisse

This divine version of bouillabaisse combines chicken and sumptuous seafood all in one pan. You’ll need a large skillet or wide cooking pot to make it. Serve the bouillabaisse with a baguette for mopping up the tasty broth.

Preparation: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 65 minutes

Makes: six servings

6 chicken thighs

6 chicken drumsticks

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 1/2 cups cored fresh fennel bulb, cut into thin strips (see Note 1)

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup white wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 (28-oz/798 mL) can whole Italian San Marzano plum (roma) tomatoes, coarsely crushed (see Note 2)

2 medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, cut 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 tsp saffron threads, crumbled (see Note 3)

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest

3 (3 to 4 oz./85 to 115 gram) Canadian East Coast lobster tails, each halved lengthwise

18 to 24 fresh manila clams

12 to 18 sea scallops

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a very large skillet (mine was 12 inches wide) set over medium, medium-high heat. Sear chicken, in batches, until rich golden, then set on the baking sheet. Now roast chicken 25 to 30 minutes, until just cooked through.

While the chicken cooks, drain all but 2 Tbsp of the oil/fat in the skillet. Add the onion and fennel and cook until tender, about four minutes. Mix in the garlic and tomato paste, and cook one minute more.

Add wine, stock, tomatoes, potatoes, saffron, paprika and orange zest to the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer; small bubbles should just break on the surface. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer and cook tomato mixture 10 minutes.

When chicken has finished cooking in the oven, lift it off the pan and set in the simmering tomato mixture. Cover and simmer the chicken 10 minutes.

Uncover the chicken and nestle the halved lobster tails, clams and scallops around it. Cover again and simmer until the lobster and scallops are cooked and the clams open, about five minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with rouille (see recipe below)

Note 1: A small- to medium-sized fresh fennel bulb should yield the amount needed here.

Note 2: Deep-red canned Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes are sold at Italian food stores and at some supermarkets. You can crush them by putting them in a bowl and using your hands or a potato masher to break them into smaller chunks.

Note 3: Saffron threads are sold in small containers at some supermarkets and specialty food stores. If you can’t find or don’t wish to use it, omit it from the recipe. The dish won’t have quite the same flavour, but it will still be tasty.

Roasted Red Pepper Rouille

Rouille is a condiment often spooned into bouillabaisse at the table. This quick-to-make version is quickly whirled together in a food processor or blender.

Preparation: two minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: About one cup

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 medium roasted red pepper (see Note)

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

1 slice white bread, torn in pieces

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

• salt, white pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Place ingredients in a food processor or blender, or in the cup that came with your immersion (hand) blender, and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve with bouillabaisse.

Note: Roasted red peppers are sold in jars in the pickle aisle or deli section of most supermarkets.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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