Histoire et gastronomie
First broadcast date
Documentary reportage led by the famous journalists, Gault and Millau, on the preparation of traditional Bouillabaisse of Marseille.
The ingredients and steps of the recipe are filmed in respect of art and culinary tradition.
Interview with a chef from Marseille, who explains the meaning of the word ‘bouillabaisse’ and lists the different sorts of this dish. Then, telling the story of the Bouillabaisse and the habits over time, considering that prices have increased tremendously, he reveals the secrets of cooking fish.
- Economy / Fishing and harbour activities
Credits / Cast
- Saguez Guy - Director
- Gault Henri - Journalist
- Millau Christian - Journalist
- France - South East - Marseille
In this report broadcast in 1967, the famous food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau set off in search of a recipe for the "true" bouillabaisse in Marseille. This emblematic dish of Provencal maritime cookery is particularly linked to Marseille, since it was from this port that it earned its reputation. Like every tradition and popular recipe, bouillabaisse has evolved over the years: little by little the fisherman's big confection, prepared with a light stock has been replaced by a rich and festive soup.
The word Bouillabaisse was probably printed for the first time in the Dictionnaire de la Provence et du Comté-Venaissin (1785): "Bouilhe-baisso, a fisherman's term, a sort of stew made by boiling [bouillir] fish in sea water. People say bouilhe-baisso because as soon as the pot boils it is withdrawn from the fire and the heat lowered [baissée]". The method described here certainly goes back a long way, since soups prepared with local ingredients are almost universal. Bouillabaisse is one of a family of "back from fishing" soups, traditionally made on the waterfront with the fish which have not sold because too boney, small or damaged.
The recipe is not the same as the bouillabaisse made in the kitchens and restaurants, which are more sophisticated and created in the 19th century. Marseilles was then growing rapidly and many working or middle class Marseillais spent their free time in the famous cabanons by the edge of the sea, where the soup became synonymous with conviviality. But the popular, working-class dish became fashionable in well-known restaurants, particularly at the end of the 19th century: restaurant owners competed with each other to include the longest list of fish possible and enriched the soup with vegetables (onion, garlic, leeks, parsely, lemon and orange peel). The tomato, cultivated in Marseille since the beginning of the 18th century, became part of the recipe during the 19th century. As for the potato that came even later, first of all in the culinary variants from Martigues and Toulon, later in Marseille version. It was also at this period that saffron was added, perhaps because travellers' and writer's described Marseille as the Gateway to the Orient. The golden soup of plush restaurants and the bouillabaisse of the cabanons co-existed in peace.
Two points are still controversial however: the recipe and the quality. It was in the 1830's that restauranteurs who published their recipes began to impose a list of fish which varied according to the writer but in which rascasse [scorpion fish] was always present. In the same way there are differences of opinion about how to start cooking the soup: in every case it has to start on a flame hot enough to make the water and olive oil emulsify, as the chef Roger Vergé says in this report.
In the 21st century one point remains at issue: the quality of the bouillabaisse. Over-sold by some restaurants in the Old Port, it has became a tourist trap heartily denounced by Henri Gault and Christian Millau, with the following conclusion: "to taste a good bouillabaisse you have to part with a lot of money". In the 20th century bouillabaisse indeed became a dish for special occasions, a far cry from its ancestral roots. In 1980 17 restauranteurs launched a "bouillabaisse charter" wanting to re-establish the image of this emblematic dish. Despite that, even today, many food critics complain it is impossible to find a good, moderately priced bouillabaisse, made with local fresh fish. The "bouillabaisse scam" has become as famous as the soup itself!
GIDARD Misette, DUPUY Jacques, « La bouillabaisse », Pot-au-feu. Convivial, familial : histoires d'un mythe, sous la direction de Julia Csergo, Autrement, Coll. Mutations, N°187, 1999
POLI Brigitte, La bouillabaisse. Lou bouil-abaïsso. Un plat, un emblème, un art de vivre, Benezet production, 2004.
Inventaire du patrimoine culinaire de la France, Albin Michel, 1995.
Henri, « La bouillabaisse : le grand combat », La pensée de midi
n° 13, 2004.