This chicken bouillabaisse, a Jacques Pépin adaptation of a French classic, is quick and easy enough to make on a weeknight. This dish is incredibly comforting and exploding with flavor!
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I’m trying to remember how old I was when I first watched Jacques Pépin on TV. I was in my early teenage years and already a fan of cooking shows. In the home where I grew up, the first floor was an open plan where the kitchen opened onto the dining and living rooms. The TV was often on in the living room, and we could watch it all the way back from the kitchen. My Mom and I would often cook or bake while watching cooking shows – I inherited her ability (or need) to do two things at once – and it strikes me today that most of the cooking shows produced in Quebec back then were hosted by homemakers rather than chefs, which made their cooking very approachable.
My Mom very often jotted down the recipes we liked as we were watching live, and I remember, reading her notes, feeling I still had a lot to learn because she only had to write down the ingredients and a few keywords (oven temperature, cooking times) to remember how to make a dish. She knew the techniques so she didn’t have to detail everything, and she usually liked to make the recipes her own by changing an ingredient or two or presenting it differently.
It was around that time that I started zapping to American channels once in a while, discovering the advantage of watching teenage TV shows that we had to wait for so long to see translated into Canadian-French. I was still very unfamiliar with English but I was hungry to learn more, particularly to understand the lyrics to the music I listened to (very loudly) in my room or my Walkman every day. One day, I suppose I tuned in to PBS and stumbled upon Jacques Pépin’s show.
I remember feeling intimidated but mesmerized at once: it was the first time I was watching a man cooking on TV; I found he was working so fast and so instinctively – and I was impressed that a man with such a bad French accent could have a career on television! Most people my age had that same very bad French accent (but much less vocabulary), so we were very shy and wary about speaking English to anyone. I was mortified when I had to speak in English in front of 30 other French-speaking students, so of course I could absolutely not imagine reaching out to thousands of viewers like Jacques Pépin did. I found him easy to understand because he pronounced words the same way I did, and I felt all grown up to be watching a “real chef” cooking.
So you’ll understand that seeing Jacques Pépin in person, a couple of weeks ago at the IACP conference in Austin, was kind of a historical moment for me. I couldn’t believe how he looked exactly the same as he did 15 years ago. I watched him cooking on stage, using his hands as spatulas to empty mixing bowls, dipping the tip of his finger into whatever he was making and licking it to check seasoning, cutting things roughly and assembling dishes in seconds. He was just as quick, brusque and nonchalant as he always was, answering questions from the public as he cooked five different dishes in an hour. Seeing him perform as he always did felt reassuring, and I did feel all grown up indeed, watching him while sitting amongst a crowd of culinary professionals rather than from my couch at home.
It was with great pleasure and honor that I later met him at the book fair. I had the chance to chat with him in French for a few minutes, telling him unoriginal things like how inspiring he was as a culinary model when I was growing up, but he was very kind and much softer-spoken than whenever he’s performing. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.
I find Fast Food My Way a great summary of Pépin’s natural style: it’s a compendium of simple, unfussy but elegant recipes. It isn’t bound to just French techniques: it crosses the borders to bring flavorful inspiration to dishes you will want to make again and again. Some dishes are heavy on their promises (the Instant Beef Tenderloin Stew and 30-Minute Cassoulet are especially intriguing), but the recipes I tried delivered both on simplicity of execution and taste.
To give you a taste of his book, I’m sharing a classic French recipe, the Bouillabaisse, made the Jacques way: simpler, faster and just as flavourful. The ingredient list is impressive, but it’s quick to assemble and it takes just 30 minutes to cook.
This dish takes its inspiration from the famous fish stew of the South of France and contains all the classic seasonings, including saffron. An expensive spice, saffron is essential to this dish. The best comes from Spain and bouillabaisse is a beautiful way to showcase it. Although the use of tarragon is not absolutely necessary, tarragon has a slight anise flavor that complements the other seasonings. The dish is served with a traditional rouille, a garlicky mayonnaise seasoned with cayenne and paprika.
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
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