I pretty much always go home to my family for my birthday on April 25th every year – I can count on less than one hand the number of times when I didn’t spent it with them. The reason isn’t for gifts (I am apparently very hard to buy for anyway) or the celebrations (I’m not a fan of aging and usually get a bit introspective on my birthdays) – it is just because I love my family more than anything in the world and want to spend as many milestones as possible with them.
So of course I was excited about going home a few weeks ago but this time, I also had an additional reason to be giddy. I reconnected with my best friend from High School back in January on Facebook and when he learned that I was coming to France, he arranged to go back home as well (he lives in France but in a different areas from where we grew up and his parents are still based) so we could see each other.
We exchanged excited IMs for weeks until our meeting as we were both so elated about seeing each other for the first time in about 20 years. We had stayed in touch after High School and seen each other a couple of times but life took us in different directions and countries and eventually we just lost touch. I had best friends growing up but our friendship was very unique. We were pretty much inseparable – we would sit next to each other in class (when the teachers didn’t pry us apart as we’d normally end up talking and laughing instead of listening to the lecture), spent of course every break time together, go home, do our homework and then call each other and spend another hour on the phone together. I have no idea what we actually had so much to talk about (but I have no doubt it was all very silly) but we were kindred spirits and made each other laugh to tears.
The wonderful thing is that, when we saw each other again a couple of weeks ago, and even after all these years, we made each other tear up with laughter like the teenagers we once were again. It literally felt like we had only left each other yesterday, despite all the life events we have both been through. I can’t wait to see him again – hopefully in New York since him and his husband have an open invitation to stay with me whenever they want.
Since my Mum, Dad and I were staying at my brother’s place for most of my time in France as my 5 year old niece Inès had to go to school, I always knew that I wanted to be the one cooking the reunion dinner. I also already had a dish in mind – something I made a couple of times before and that’s absolutely delicious: Eric Ripert’s chicken bouillabaisse. It’s easy to make for a large number of people but most importantly incredibly tasty.
I have very vivid memories of my mum making a traditional bouillabaisse while we were on holiday in the South of France years ago. We were buying fish straight off a fisherman’s and Mum asked him for his recipe. She spent the entire rest of the day working on it – it was absolutely amazing but I still remember her frustration about the length and tediousness of the process.
This recipe is a short cut as much as it is a variation. You will not find the great depth of fish stock here that you would with a traditional bouillabaisse. Instead the broth is made of fennel, onions, garlic, good crushed tomatoes (I can’t recommend San Marzano highly enough) and Pernod – that aniseed based liquor that everyone drinks in the South of France as soon as the clock strikes 11.45am.
I love the addition of the chicken though – I always favor thighs and legs and I think that combining it with clams and mussels is the perfect balance. The fact that you can throw some potatoes in the broth too to make it a complete and perfect meal is the icing on the cake. And of course homemade aoili spread generously on crunchy crostinis is completely addictive .
I did not change a thing about the recipe, which you can find here.