The Fish of France: Weever (Trachinus draco Linnaeus )

Photo credit: Misjel Decleer

A bouillabaisse fish, the weever is. Mentioned in William Verral’s A Complete System of Cookery (1759) as “weaver,” the weever fish’s spines emit poison. According to Clifford Wright, a restaurateur in Marseille likely invented bouillabaisse, an expensive version of fish stew and not really the traditional fisherman’s fish boil. 

Photo credit: Marseille Tourisme

So much for romantic nostalgia and visions of bereted shivering men huddled around a bubbling pot of fish tails and mussel shells.

Charles Dickens expounded on bouillabaisse in a most enticing way in Household Words, a Weekly Journal (Vol. 1, 1881, p. 351):

The bouillabaisse, is one of the foremost of representative French dishes, and it is at the same time uncompromisingly southern. The Marseillais declares that nowhere can it be fully appreciated as in the incomparable city on the shores of the Mediterranean; and he would scout the idea — if he could read Thackeray’s poem — of bouillabaisse in the “New Street of the Little Fields.”

The bouillabaisse, says the enthusiast, must be eaten in a southern climate, under southern skies; one must be penetrated with the effect of the brilliancy of the scenes, the burning heat of the sun, the fresh breeze in the shade, in order to perfectly enjoy the

Sort of soup, or broth, or brew,
Or hotch-potch of all sorts of fishes,
That Greenwich never could out-do.

As for Thackeray’s recipe —

Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffron,
Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dare;

When it is remembered that there are, as a rule, about fifteen or sixteen heads of garlic in a quantity of bouillabaisse deemed sufficient for four persons, it will be easily conceived that the partakers of this southern dish are not agreeable company to those who dislike the perfume of garlic.

Provençal Potage, Bouillabaisse. Take any kind of fish, but tho best arc whiting, dory, haddock, or cod. Fillet the fish and trim it. Pat in a frying-pan an onion sliced, a clove of garlic, some parsley finely chopped, a bit of lemon or orange-peel, some salt, pepper, spice, saffron, with a pint of water, a tablespoonful of oil and a glass of light wine for each pound of fish. Add the fish filleted. Stir the potage, and put it on a quick fire for a quarter of an hour till it bubbles. Let it remain now on the fire for five minutes; add a bit of butter mixed with flour, and serve. Fennel and bay-leaf may be added, if liked.

Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, p. 659, 1883.

© 2011 C. Bertelsen

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