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Qu'est-ce Que C'est? De-Mystifying Chicago Restaurant Menus: Bouillabaisse and Consommé

By L. Stolpman in Food on Oct 22, 2008 4:31PM


Bouillabaisse and Consommé: two things we feel like we should know... and we're pretty sure we did know at some point. And then we find ourselves staring at the words on a menu and wondering, "Wait...what exactly is that, again?"

Simply put, Bouillabaisse is a Mediterranean fish stew. What distinguishes bouillabaisse from other fish stews is the flavor it gets from some unique ingredients like fennel, orange zest (or peel) and saffron. Bouillabaisse is full of various types of seafood and is traditionally served by placing all the seafood on a platter and filling individual bowls with the steaming broth. The broth is sometimes served with toasted rounds topped with rouille (a sauce made from olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic and other spices) or as a complement to another fish dish. You can read a bit more about the history of Bouillabaisse here.

Consommé is made by adding meat, tomatoes and egg whites to stock. The egg whites form a "raft" of impurities, drawn out from the acid in the tomatoes. The amber liquid remaining after the impurities have been removed is a complex, flavorful liquid. Michael Ruhlman, in his book The Making of a Chef, talks about the very scientific process of making consommé taught at the Culinary Institute of America. Pages are dedicated to retelling the perils of students who fail to balance heat, acid, patience, and attention...thus botching their consommé.

Photo by Cameron Maddux