A Return to Cooking


A bouillabaisse is a traditional French seafood stew, so I know a lot of purists are going to go up in arms when I call this dish chicken bouillabaisse. But why am I so brave in declaring this so – because this dish is from a well respected chef: Judy Rodgers and it is in her book, my perennial favorite: The Zuni Cafe cookbook. So I dare any of you to slam this, now. *wink*wink*. And seriously, people if you don’t have to this book on your bookshelf yet…get it now. Seriously.

(sorry, I’m in Grey’s Anatomy withdrawal , I just had to let it out)

I have made this dish countless of times before but this past winter my feet seemed to have gotten so entangled with that of the macaron’s that savory dishes are almost a rarity in the kitchen these days. It’s not that I’m not inspired, there are a lot of dishes I want to try but most of them take time (i.e. I still need to finalize my recipe for duck confit) and some of them does not look pretty at all plated (like the delicious Katsudon – I really need to make this again but if you all can’t wait for the recipe, I got it here).

This bouillabaisse is not hard to make at all. Don’t sweat it if you did not exactly measure ¼ cup of dry wine or 8 oz of yellow onion. Most of these are just guidelines and everything could be adjusted according to taste.

Now the aïoli was a different matter. I tried it twice and failed miserably – meanwhile my French bread was screaming at me to take a look at it so I finally had to ask the “Hungry” Hubby to whip the garlic mayonnaise into submission.

Chicken Bouillabaisse

From Judy Rodger’s Zuni Cafe

  • 4 chicken legs (about 8 ounces each) or a 3-pound chicken, back removed and quartered
  • 8 oz. sliced yellow onion ( 2 cups, about 1 medium onion)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A sprig of thyme
  • 1 small dried chili
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped drained canned tomatoes or 1/3 cup chopped, peeled, ripe tomatoes
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 4 small slices chewy peasant-style bread, about ½ inch thick
  • About ½ cup aïoli (recipe to follow) or 1 garlic clove peeled

Season the chicken 12 to 24 hours in advance:

            Trim the excess fat, then season the chicken evenly all over with salt (we use ¾ teaspoon sea salt per pound of chicken). Cover loosely and refrigerate.

            Combine the onions with the oil and a few pinches of salt in a 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently so they do not color, until the onions are nutty-tender and translucent and have fallen to half their former mass, about 5 minutes.

            Add the bay leaf, thyme, and chili, breaking the pod in half if you want the bouillabaisse to be a little spicier. Add the white wine and boil for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, saffron, garlic, and chicken stock and bring to a simmer.

            Add the 4 or 2 chicken legs and bring back to a simmer. Skim any foam. Adjust the heat to maintain a quiet simmer and cook uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring once or twice. If using cut-up chicken, add the breasts after about 30 minutes of cooking time. The chicken should be quite tender, but not falling off the bone.

            Meanwhile, grill or toast the bread. Spread each warm slice with about 1 tablespoon of aïoli, if using, and place in a warm bowl.

            Lightly skim the surface of the bouillabaisse, then raise the heat and boil vigorously for 1 minute. Place a piece of chicken on each toast and moisten with the golden, oniony broth. Offer remaining aïoli as garnish.


Makes a generous ½ cup:

  • 1 or 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
  • A few pinches of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • About ½ cup mild-tasting olive oil

Cut the garlic into a few pieces and then pound them in a mortar. Add the salt. It should act as an abrasive and help you smash the last solid bits of garlic. Add the yolk and stir with the pestle to amalgamate. Still using the pestle, work in the oil, a cautious trickle or a few drops at first, gradually increasing the flow as the yolk becomes tacky and opaque. As the yolk reaches saturation, the mixture will make a satisfying clucking sound.

If you add a few drops of water to the Aïoli, it will whiten and soften, allowing you to add more oil, which you may choose to do so if you find the garlic remains too aggressive with only ½ cup of oil. (1/2 teaspoon water will bind an additional ½ cup oil.)

Cooking Notes:

            As I’ve said the bouillabaisse is very easy to make just make sure to season the chicken ahead of time so the flavor migrates all the way to the bone. I added more than a pinch of saffron though. Unlike the recipe I always thought saffron should be added only in the last 10 minutes of cooking. So I added some in the beginning and more at the end until I acquired the lovely golden color of saffron.

            I have no picture of the aïoli. Even HH had a problem with it, we had to rescue it by starting another batch with another yolk and working in the broken one with the hand mixer since both our hands and arms got tired – as memories of the past aïoli-making come back to haunt us. The emulsion was not perfect, more like oily mayonnaise but again – it tasted phenomenal.

            Because the French bread was freshly baked, we did not toast it at all. We merely smeared the crusty bread with the mayonnaise and dipped it in the saffron broth.

            The HH and I agreed that this meal was very satisfying not only for our bellies but for our soul. Everything was homemade – though not perfect – each bite almost seemed like an affirmation of our love for food …and for each other.

20 thoughts on “A Return to Cooking

  1. I do have this book Veron and need to seriously get into it but I'm not finding many bread recipes there ;))
    We can become pretty obsessive once in a while can't we.
    I'm happy to call this bouillabaisse. Given that this is a 'peasant' dish, I imagine that the French housewives make it with what they have. Sounds wonderful to me.

  2. Hmmmm, I think I actually have all those ingredients already. Well, I have 4 chicken thighs. I'm not sure if that will be enough, but maybe I'll give this recipe a try this week.

  3. This sounds just delicious…whatever name it carries 🙂 And I can imagine what an incredible meal it was in all it's homemade goodness! 🙂

    I have to get that book now!

  4. I have never seen this before but I should try it! But maybe I should call it something else… the purists in my house would go nuts! Hahaha… But this sounds delicious Veron. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Yay! Finally! I've been waiting for this recipe! And wouldn't you know, I just happen to have all the ingredients at home, waiting to be used…

  6. I'm happy that I have the book already. You're so inspiring that I think I'll make the recipe soon just to experience what you're talking about.

  7. Yum… this looks really good. I love the Zuni cookbook but haven't really used it enough. Your post is making me want to read through it again. Thanks.

  8. Hi there,

    Just wanted to let you know that I loved your recipe! It is included in round up of the best recipes on the web over at Blissfully Domestic today. Thanks for the great recipe!! 🙂


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