08 June 2012

8 June - Festival of Mens; Bouillabaisse

Weather:  If it rains on Saint Médard’s day, there will be another forty days of wet weather.

If on the eighth of June it rain
It foretells a wet harvest, man sain.

If it rains on St. Médard's day, it will rain for forty days, unless it is dry on St. Barnabas [and then all bets are off]
If it rains on St. Médard's day, there will be a wet harvest.
If it rains on the day of Saint Médard, we will not have wine nor lard.

[oh, boo!  No rain!  No rain!]


The Mind has its own goddess too.  I note a sanctuary
Was vowed to Mind, during the terror of war with you,
Perfidious Carthage. You broke the peace, and astonished
By the consul’s death, all feared the Moorish army.
Fear had driven out hope, when the Senate made their vows
To Mind, and immediately she was better disposed to them.
The day when the vows to the goddess were fulfilled
Is separated by six days from the approaching Ides.
                                                                                                                                           Ovid, Fasti, Book VI

Today, the ancient Romans invoked Mens, the female personification of the mind.  Later she became a goddess of the mind and right thinking, with a sanctuary on the Capitol.  The object of her worship, according to Sir William Smith, was that the citizens might always be guided by a right spirit. 
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology, and Geography (1871), p. 502

I think this is a perfect day, in the midst of the season when many are calling upon their (probably depleted) brain reserves to pass tests and competitions, to serve Brain Food, which to me has always meant fish and shellfish.  And there is no better way to get a goodly variety of brain food than by enjoying BOUILLABAISSE

A true bouillabaisse should contain at least eight different kinds of fish/shellfish, and the fish should be a mix of those considered heavy (cod, haddock, sea bass) and more delicate types (sole, flounder, perch).  Traditional bouillabaisse includes eel, but I am not fond of eel, and always leave it out.  I’m also not good with lobsters, so any lobster meat added is already removed from the shells and merely heated through.  That is not traditional, though, so I will add the directions for lobsters.

As with all good peasant dishes, the amounts are general, as are the ingredients – use what you have and what you like.

Fish and shellfish
Keeping your light and heavy fish separate, cut 3 pounds of mixed fish into serving sized chunks.
If you are adding eel, you already know how to prepare it, and how much you want.  Cut it into 3-inch pieces.
If you are adding lobster, split 2 pounds of them down the middle, head to tail, on the underside and remove the intestines.  Break off the claws and crack them.  Cut the tail and body into pieces.
Wash 3 dozen clams.
Devein and shell 1 pound of shrimp.

Thoroughly clean 3 leeks and cut the white portions into small pieces.
Peel and chop 2 large onions and 3 garlic cloves.
Peel and seed 3 tomatoes (I use nice, large Roma tomatoes) or substitute 2 cups of tomato juice.

Make a bouquet garni: into a cheesecloth bag, put 1 teaspoon of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley,  ½ tablespoon of chopped celery leaves, and 1 teaspoon of rosemary.  If you’d rather add the herbs without the cheesecloth bag, then do so.

Dissolve a pinch of saffron in a cup of dry white wine.  Save the remaining wine for dissolving the cook later, or use it to give her courage in facing lobsters.

In a large cooking pot or kettle, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil and add the vegetables (including the tomatoes, but not the tomato juice), cooking them for a few minutes.  If you are not using the bouquet garni, add the teaspoon of thyme now.  Otherwise, drop in the bouquet garni.  Arrange the heavy fish (and the eel if you are using it) on the vegetables and cook for about 8 minutes.

Arrange the delicate fish and the lobster pieces on the previous layer; pour over it the wine mixed with saffron, and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.  Cover the whole mess with fish stock, clam broth, or water (or all three).  If you didn’t use tomatoes, add the tomato juice now; if you didn’t use the bouquet garni, add the remaining herbs now. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Add the clams and the shrimp (this is where I also add the lobster meat which someone has already thoughtfully removed from the shell); cook until the clam shells open.

That’s it.  Spoon the ingredients into bowls (large, flat soup plates show off your masterpiece nicely) and ladle broth on top of each serving.  Serve with thick slices of French Bread, toasted or not, to aid in getting every delicious morsel.

Here’s to your brain, and right thinking.