Journey along the Indian spice route with Andreas Viestad in his new cookbook, Where Flavor Was Born, featuring recipes like Mauritian Bouillabaisse (Mauritius); Cumin-Curry Tuna Salad with Dates and Chickpeas (Oman); and Curried Duck with Vanilla (Réunion—France).
Republic of Mauritius (French: République de Maurice), is an island nation off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean.
Serves 6 as a main course
This is a lovely tropical fish and shellfish stew typical of the playful Mauritian Cooking. That it claims to be an interpretation of the classical Marseilles fish soup is also characteristic of a cuisine that is unique and homegrown but not, in the strictest sense of the word, indigenous.
When, in the years after 1715, the French East India Company established a colony on what is now Mauritius, the island was almost uninhabited save for the remains of a Dutch trading post. The new possession was named Ile de France, after the mother country, but its rapidly growing population was global rather than French: Indians, Chinese, Malagasy, and Africans as well as different European tribes.
The island was lost to Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, at the battle of Cape Malheureux—"Cape Unlucky"—in 1810. Today, even though it is nearly two hundred years since the French lost and left, and English has long been the official language, French is still more commonly spoken. But the language, people, and culture are highly creolized.
This is especially true when it comes to cooking—the food is hardly ever "purely" French, Indian, or Chinese, and nearly always more an image of the heterogeneous population than of its purported place of origin. In this "bouillabaisse," which has been adapted to the local temperament and taste, little more than the French name remains; I think that it is reasonable to say that a fiery yellow and spicy bouillabaisse with coconut milk would be impossible in Marseilles.
I make it a point to use both shellfish and fish. I also make a nice, quite intense shellfish stock. You can, however, make do with a store-bought stock.
1 Remove the shells from the shellfish using your hands. If you are using live shellfish, such as lobster, kill it first by plunging into boiling water for 30 seconds.
2 Place the shellfish meat in a bowl, cover, and place in the refrigerator. Make stock from the shells or discard.
3 Place the fish in a bowl, season with the turmeric and ground ginger, and mix well using a spatula. (Your hands would be seriously discolored by the turmeric.)
4 In a large pot, bring the shellfish stock to a boil. Add the coconut cream, lemongrass, saffron, lime leaf, half of the fresh ginger, and the tomato paste, if desired. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the lemongrass and lime leaf have released their flavors and the stock is reduced by about one-third. Season with salt to taste.
5 Add the fish, shellfish, tomatoes, the bell peppers (if desired), the onions, coriander seeds, curry leaves, chiles, and thyme and cook for 10 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through. Transfer to soup plates; garnish with curry leaves, the rest of the ginger, and thyme; and serve.
NOTE How much expensive shellfish you use is up to you. You can use only fish and a handful of shrimp and still have a wonderful dish. The shellfish should be raw. If using already cooked shellfish, add it to the dish after it has been plated, as It will get rubbery if reheated in the soup.
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This page created November 2007
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