Friday, September 18, 2009

Bouillabaisse, rouille, and homemade crackers

As you know, I'm a fan of Ina Garten. I like her show and I like her cookbooks. I find her husband irresistible. And, although I make fun of her recipes, which usually begin "Combine 1 pound of butter and 1 pound of sugar" and end with "Douse with cognac and stir in 2 cups of cream," I completely trust her recipes. She may be shortening my life with each one, but they are usually worth it. So, I decided to purchase her new cookbook, Back to Basics.

The first thing I made was her chicken bouillabaisse with rouille. I was intrigued by rouille ever since I read Croque-Camille's post about it a little while ago. Rouille is a garlicky saffron mayonnaise. Croque-Camille's contained potato to stabilize it. Ina's recipe did not call for potato, simply egg yolk, lemon, garlic, saffron, salt, and olive oil. After making Ina's rouille, I think potato might have been a good idea.

The rouille was a total bust. Although I tried to be careful, slowly dripping the olive oil through the food processor tube, the rouille broke and instead of a smooth, creamy aioli, it turned out curdled and thin. The flavor was also off--too garlicky even if I'd gotten the consistency right.

The bouillabaisse turned out strangely, too. The tomato puree made it weirdly thick and the whole dish was very salty, although I did not add any additional salt. And, it took way longer--nearly 45 minutes extra-- for the potatoes to cook than Ina indicated.

I should disclose that I did stray from the recipe in one small regard which may have impacted the flavor-- it called for Pernod, which I did not have. I actually went to the store to purchase it and nearly had a heart attack when I saw the price. Although I can be extravagant in most ways when it comes to cooking, I can also really cheap out. When I saw that a bottle of Pernod was $31, I immediately eliminated it from the recipe. It probably would have added some lovely depth of flavor, but I am a non-profit drone who has been furloughed since February; Pernod is a luxury I can live without, especially when I only need 3 tablespoons.

So the rouille broke, the bouillabaisse ended up salty, and the little potatoes took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. As the husband summed up, "Not a bestseller." This is something my dad used to say when he would try new recipes that nobody ended up liking.

Because everything took so damn long, by the time dinner was ready, it was too dark to take any photos, which is a shame, since in spite of tasting kind of crummy, the deep orange chicken and bright yellow rouille made for a striking dish.

I decided to give Ina another chance a couple of days later and make her parmesan thyme crackers, although I used rosemary instead. They were simple and elegant, which I think encapsulates the Barefoot Contessa's cooking philosophy.

You just mix up some softened butter with parmesan, flour, a little salt, and the fresh herb, forming a nice crumbly dough. Then you shape it into a log, chill it, and half an hour later you can slice the crackers and bake them off. They were absolutely delicious as a little snack before dinner, which you know I am inclined to have on occasion.  The crackers quickly disappeared. Next time I'll double the recipe and freeze half so I can enjoy homemade crackers on a whim. They went very nicely with a glass of wine, but what doesn't?

So, one failure and one bestseller from the Barefoot Contessa. I guess no one gets it right every time!


  1. "Not a best-seller''! Too funny. If I try a recipe that doesn't come out well, my husband has his own saying, too. It goes like this: "You're not making this again, are you??!?'' Hah.

  2. I've made her thyme crackers. Aren't they divine? Do those make up for your lack of a bestseller?

  3. I love rouille! It's a saffron-flavored mayonnaise, you should try again; it's out of this world.

    Jackie at

  4. I agree with talat--you should try the rouille again. I don't know what recipe you're using, but mine begins with a mortar and pestle, crushing the chili and garlic and egg together, and starting to add the oil then. Maybe that might make it better. But I think you DO need a little mayo mojo.

    These cheese crackers look wonderful. I love the idea of rosemary instead of thyme. Thanks for posting this!

  5. Food Gal: well we use the husbands as guinea pigs so I guess they're entitled to a vote on whether it's a repeat recipe or not!

    Barbara: Yes, the crackers absolutely made up for the bouillabaisse!

    talat: I will definitely try it again--I've had it in restaurants and thought it divine.

    Kate: I will, most definitely. Mortar and pestle? Wow, that could have made a difference, although I think mine just was doomed :(

  6. Thanks for the mention! Sorry your bouillabaisse/rouille didn't work out so well - but those crackers look great. Every time I see a blog post about homemade crackers, I think "why don't I have a log of cracker dough in the freezer at all times?"

    What doesn't go well with a glass of wine? :)

  7. You know, I forgot to say that my mayo mojo increased a lot when I started using an immersion blender to make mayo. I bet it would help with the rouille too. Then you don't need the mortar and pestle. Just blitz the kapooie out of it! Good luck. Let us know how it turns out, ok?

  8. Try it again, you are a wonderful cook, it will work!

  9. as a fan of instant gratification, i commend you for your diligence here. sometimes it's just worth the work. :)

  10. croque camille: yes, my rouille was a pale imitation of yours! It was sad. But the crackers did make up for it.

    Kate: I do have an immersion blender so I'll have to give that a try. I would never have thought of that. Thanks for the tip!

    egg to the apples: thanks, you are very kind! I will try it again for sure.

    Grace: Oh, I'm a fan of instant gratification too...don't give me too much credit.

  11. wow, I've never tried rouille, it intimidates me... those crackers however, sound delicious. now you've got me all curious about ina gartens husband!

  12. foodhoe: now rouille intimidates me too! Ina Garten's husband is irresistibly nerdy and sweet, they are adorable together.

  13. Those crackers sound great. I've made a few of Ina's recipes that have definitely been best-sellers in my house. Thanks for sharing this one.

  14. I love those Parmesan Thyme crackers from Ina's cookbook! Glad you enjoyed them too :)

  15. To make rouille, you must add the olive oil literally drop by drop, while whisking like crazy. After you've added about 1/4 cup in this manner, you can start pouring it in a VERY thin stream, still whisking constantly. (I get my husband to do this!) To NOT listen to anyone who advises you to use mayonnaise, or a food processor/blender. As for the bouillabaisse, I recommend using the fronds from a fennel bulb instead of Pernod. Then you can use the leftovers to make a delicious fennel and blood orange salad! Enjoy!