My favorite soup is fish soup and this is my favorite recipe. Some years ago I was lucky enough to study with Patricia Wells at her home in Provence, she is gracious and charming and her cooking is absolutely delicious. While all of her cookbooks are mainstays in my kitchen, my two favorites are Bistro Cooking and Patricia Wells at Home in Provence.

I adapt this recipe by adding a bunch of tarragon to the bouquet garni and amping up the variety and amount of fish in the soup. To save money, when I go to the fishmonger I ask him for whatever chunks and ends of fish he has on hand. This week I made added pieces of of halibut, swordfish, and scup to the monkfish. Usually, I don’t have time to make homemade aioli and I’ll take a few tablespoons of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, put a garlic clove through a press and add a generous shake of cayenne pepper, stir it all around and use this instead. This fish stew doesn’t last long in our house. When we have leftovers that aren’t generous enough for a full serving, I’ll put a ladle full of the leftover thickened soup into a bowl and top it with a freshly prepared, steamed or pan seared, fish filet or steak.

Patricia Well’s Monkfish Bouillabaisse from Patricia Wells At Home in Provence

2 pounds (1 kg) very fresh monkfish, bone-in, or
substitute tilefish, grouper, striped bass, or cod
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 head plump, fresh garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Bouquet garni: a generous bunch of flat-leaf parsley,
celery leaves, fresh bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme
tied in a bundle with household twine
2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons pastis, or anise liqueur
1 small can (14 1/2 ounces; 400g) imported
whole plum tomatoes in juice
6 plump, ripe tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 quarts (1 1/2 l) water
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
4 small, firm, fresh fennel bulbs (about 1 1/2 pounds; 750g),
trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and cut into bite-size pieces
A small pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon) of saffron threads
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons minced fennel fronds or leaves
1 recipe Aïoli (follows)

1. Fillet the fish: With a fillet knife, cut away the thin membrane cover-
ing the outside of the fish. Cut along one side of the central bone to
remove the fillet. Repeat with the other side. Cut the monkfish fillet
at an angle into 3-inch (7.5-cm) escalopes (or ask your fishmonger
to do this for you). Place the escalopes on a large platter, cover,
and refrigerate until serving time. Reserve the bone and crack
slightly.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, heat the oil over moderate
heat until hot. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, bouquet garni, salt
and monkfish bone. Sweat – cook gently without browning –
for 8 to 10 minutes. This will create a condensed, flavorful soup
base. Add the tomato paste, anise liqueur, canned tomatoes,
fresh tomatoes, water and cayenne pepper, if using. Cover and
bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for
45 minutes. Remove and discard the bouquet garni and monk-
fish bone. Using an immersion mixer, roughly purée the liquid
in the casserole. (Alternatively, pass the liquid through the coarse
blade of a food mill and return it to the casserole.) Taste for
seasoning. Add the fennel bulbs, cover, and simmer gently until
soft, 15 to 20 minutes more. (The dish can be prepared several
hours in advance up to this point and reheated when adding
the monkfish.)
3. At serving time, bring the liquid to a very gentle simmer to assure
that the soup will be thoroughly heated. Add the saffron and
monkfish. Lower the heat and cook the fish gently just until
tender, 3 to 4 minutes more. Taste for seasoning.
4. To serve, transfer portions of the fish and fennel to warmed shal-
low soup bowls. Spoon the broth over the fish. Sprinkle with
the orange zest and fennel fronds. Pass the aïoli, allowing the
guests to swirl a teaspoon or two into their soup. Serve with
plenty of toasted homemade bread.
Four to six servings.

Aïoli: Garlic Mayonnaise

6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks*, at room temperature *
1 cup (25 cl) extra-virgin olive oil