A "Bourride" of John Dory and Mussels
Updated: Apr 6
"I have eaten bouillabaisse that has varied from a stale fish soup to something quite excellent. But for me la bourride is the fish dish."
Keith Floyd (1985)
For ages I've been keen to put together a dish like this for one of the fish we have in relative abundance on the south coast and that I associate with the Mediterranean, the John Dory. It's not given a particularly healthy rating by the Marine Conservation Society's Good Fish Guide but, reading beyond the headline figure, it would seem that fish caught as by-catch in small-scale fisheries are not a threat to overall stock health.
With the Mediterranean in mind I was always leaning in the direction of a Bourride as a possible something for John Dory. Truth be told I don't believe I've ever eaten a genuine bourride as prepared in its home of Marseilles, and certainly from what I've read, it's quite an elaborate affair (see, for example, this article by Rowley Leigh) - not really what I was after. That said and by contrast, Keith Floyd's prescription in "Floyd on Fish", is lovingly simple yet respectfully indulgent - but that was the way the God of a man cooked.
The essence of a bourride is undoubtedly a selection of fish (less prescribed than for a bouillabaisse) and a soup made with cream and flavoured with garlic. The recipe I have written below is based largely on one of Shaun Hill's as published in "Rick Stein's Food Heroes: Another Helping".
Quite when in the year this is ideal to make from a seasonality point of view is a little hard to pin down. Whereas mussels from the south coast do unquestionably seem to get better and better as summer heads to winter, the prime time for John Dory tends to be toward the end of the summer, though "some stragglers are still around later" if I am to paraphrase Martin Yorwarth. So perhaps early autumn is the sweet-spot in the year for this particular combination of seafoods (it's when I first gave the recipe a go), but then again, there is no reason why it can't be made with one's favourites - Floyd's proposal is one for lobster and sea bass (amongst others) which would be quite perfect for the height of summer.
This is a superb dinner party dish. Although the preparation takes around 1½ hours, it can be done well ahead of time, even the previous day, with only 20 minutes additional work required. And what a stunning dish to be able to knock up in only 20 minutes! Bon appetit!
The recipe as written can be carried out up to and including Step 6 several hours ahead of serving time, or as said earlier, even the day before. I don't see any reason why as well as the fish the selection of vegetables can't be altered in accordance with what's available and preferred.
The key to making this dish comfortably achievable is just getting what you want in it ready in advance of the final arrangement. It's also very easy to scale up for larger quantities - just make a little more of the soup than you think you need and serve up the amount you want to eat. You'll probably eat it all anyway.
A "Bourride" of John Dory and Mussels
Ingredients (Serves 2)
225g John Dory fillet, skinned and cut into 1½" chunks
300g mussels, cleaned
150ml double cream
4 or 5 thyme sprigs
Saffron strands, 2 pinches
150g shallots, peeled
5 garlic cloves, peeled
30ml (2 tbsp) white wine
150g new potatoes, scrubbed or peeled, cut into 1½" pieces
6-8 cherry tomatoes
3 spring onions, cut into 1" lengths
Green beans, a small handful, cut into 1-1½" lengths
A few Cos lettuce leaves, cut into spoon-sized pieces
Lemon juice, quantity to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
Bring the cream, the thyme sprigs and one pinch of saffron strands to the boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour.
At the same time, wrap the shallots, garlic and the 25g butter in a foil parcel, place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 180°C for 1 hour.
Put the potatoes into a saucepan of cold water, add a pinch of salt and the second pinch of saffron strands and bring to the boil. Cook the potatoes for 10-15 mins necessary to bring them to the point of being just cooked, even a touch under. Spoon the potatoes out of the pan into a bowl and let the cold tap run through the bowl for a minute or so to arrest the cooking of the potatoes. Reserve the potato cooking liquor.
In a saucepan for which you have a lid, bring the 30ml white wine to the boil, add the mussels, cover the pan, give it a shake and cook the mussels for a couple of minutes until they have all just opened. Set a sieve over a bowl and strain the mussels, reserving their cooking liquor caught in the bowl. When the mussels are cool enough to handle, separate the meats from the shells except for a few that you would like to use in the shell for presentation.
Cook the green beans in a pan of boiling salted water for about 3 minutes so that they remain al dente. Refresh the beans in cold running water and set aside.
After the hour of baking the onions and garlic, and infusing the cream, sieve the cream into the container of an electric blender, scraping at the thyme with the back of a ladle to extract as much flavour as possible. Lift the shallot and garlic from their baking parcel and add to the cream. Blitz until smooth then pass through a sieve, either into a container if to be stored for later use, or into a sauté pan or chef's pan (or heavy duty wok).
When ready to cook, bring the garlic and saffron cream to the boil and adjust the seasoning to taste with lemon juice and salt and pepper. If the soup is a little thick, just add a spoonful or two of the potato cooking water.
Add the John Dory chunks to the bubbling soup and cook for 3 minutes. Then add the potatoes and cherry tomatoes and cook for a further 1 minute. Next put in the spring onions, green beans and most of the chopped chives and reheat these in the soup for 1 more minute. Again, if the soup thickens too much, use the reserved potato water to thin it al little. Finally add the mussels both in and out of the shells. Check and adjust the seasoning of the soup as necessary.
Divide the lettuce leaves between 2 large soup bowls. Spoon the solid ingredients of the stew into the two bowls, pour over the soup liquid and garnish with the remaining chopped chives.
"Floyd on Fish", Keith Floyd (1985), pp.46: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Floyd-Fish-Keith/dp/0563204222
"Rick Stein's Food Heroes: Another Helping ", Rick Stein (2009), pp. 62: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Food-Heroes-Another/dp/0563487526
"Good Fish Guide", Marine Conservation Society, accessed 26 August 2020
"Bourride: Rowley Leigh's recipe for the famous fish stew", Financial Times, accessed 25 August 2020
Yorwarth's Fishmongers and Smoke House, website accessed 19 December 2020