Citizens! The Sovereign of Spice – the supernal Suzerain who ALONE is TFD! – has always had a longing to supercharge my palate with all flavors spicy, and condiments have always packed a serious flavor punch along those lines! In fact, on occasion, the condiment can even outshine the main dish, as is the case with snails vs. the snail butter they are served with! Some people swoon for undressed escargot, it’s true – but EVERYONE loves garlic-laden herbed butter! In today’s recipe, we face a similar conundrum. Many people love the French seafood soup known as bouillabaisse, but the real palate kicker is frequently the baguette slices slathered with rouille, a spicy, garlic-laden saffron mayonnaise that really kicks the soup into high gear!
Bouillabaisse may take days to make, but the rouille can be made quite quickly and is absolutely delicious spread on pretty much anything. I’ve previously posted a recipe for bouillabaisse and rouille here, but this version today has been designed for snacking with anything EXCEPT bouillabaisse.
As noted on tasteatlas.com:
This thick French sauce is usually used as a garnish for fish and fish soup dishes, most notably in the famous traditional Provençal fish stew known as bouillabaisse. It consists of garlic, saffron, chili peppers, olive oil, breadcrumbs, and sometimes egg yolks, because some recipes use mayonnaise as a base.
The name of the sauce translates as rust due to the intense, reddish-brown color of the sauce. Although the origins of rouille are difficult to pinpoint, since modern bouillabaisse is always served with rouille, it can be deduced that the sauce must have coexisted with the dish since the late 18th century, when the first recipe for bouillabaisse appeared in print.
The superlative chef of all things historically French is Clifford Wright, and he shares his deep knowledge of rouille on his website cliffordawright.com:
In the Middle Ages, there was no doubt that saffron was a luxury spice. Saffron was rare and expensive, and grown for export in only three places: Albi in Languedoc, Aquila in Abruzzo, and in Catalonia. A pound of saffron could cost as much as a horse.
In Languedoc and Provence, the local saffron may not have been quite that expensive because it did not have to travel very great distances, although it is always expensive to harvest. The saffron was grown in Albi and bought at the Toulouse or Montpellier spice markets. The most popular spice mix was black pepper and ginger, with the addition of smaller amounts of other spices such as saffron.
When black pepper was in short supply in India, traders would replace it with ersatz pepper such maniguette (malaguette), which is known as guinea pepper or grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta), and came from the coast of Guinea from the fifteenth century onwards. A recent study showed that black pepper is used in 16 and 19 percent of the recipes, respectively, in the two earliest French cookery works, the Enseingnemenz qui enseingnent a apareiller toutes manieres de viandes and Quomodo praeparanda et condienda omnia cibaria quae comuniter comeduntur, from the early fourteenth century, and grains of paradise not at all in the first and in 2 percent of the recipes in the second of the manuscripts.
But by the time of the famous cookery work the Viandier by the first notable French chef, Taillevent, later in the fourteenth century, grains of paradise appeared in 14 percent of the recipes, meaning that black pepper was in short supply. Once the New World chili peppers began to arrive in the sixteenth century they too were added to the repertoire of spices used in southern France, their piquancy being noted by early writers.
Rouille is the traditional mayonnaise accompaniment to bouillabaisse, containing abundant chili pepper and garlic, a powerful and perilous sauce for many palates. Some cooks add tomato paste for coloring only, but I don’t find this necessary because the saffron and cayenne are assertive enough in coloring. In Provencal home cooking, the addition of saffron often allows the cook to call the preparation a “bouillabaisse.”
Citizens, my recipe for rouille is based very closely on Wright’s but with 2 key differences: first, since we are not making this as part of a bouillabaisse, we need to have some seafood stock on hand to make this. Escoffier’s recipe is always on-point and you can get a dehydrated version of it here. Rehydrate it according to the directions with water and some white wine to taste. I also differ by using not cayenne, but the Tunisian hot sauce known as harissa. I prefer it as it has a more rounded flavor with its spices, but also as a paste it melds far better with the sauce. My preferred store brand is here.
If you’ve never tried rouille in its classic form with bread crumbs, you are in for a real treat, my Citizens! Enjoy this in any way you see fit – just be sure to share the love with your friends and family! 🙂
Battle on – the Generalissimo