It’s not that difficult, you just have to love it into the stew pot. Start by making a court bouillon:
Use all sorts of shells:
You can freeze these as you enjoy the meats and use in making your bouillon when you need them. Use crab, lobster, shrimp, crayfish – saute in butter & saffron (four or five threads will do) until they are pink. (If already cooked, skip this part.)
Throw all of these into a pot with some water, vermouth or white wine, salt, pepper, a bundle of fines herbs tied into cheesecloth with a piece of twine, a little more saffron, crushed garlic and 2 or three quartered onions.
Add any fish bones or some scrap fish parts from the fishmonger (you may have to ask for these to be saved for you). The skin and bones of smoked fish adds a nice, rich smoky flavor to your court bouillon. If you don’t have any on hand, use a little smoked ham or bacon.
Simmer for about an hour. Cool, then strain through sieve and set aside.
Make a roux. Roux is an art form; There are several recipes and you can use either the “brown” roux New Orleans-style or the lighter classic French styles. Here is a site with photos describing the Louisiana style of roux: http://www.southerngumbotrail.com/roux.shtml
I actually like to divide the fats in my roux into equal parts clarified duck or goose fat and butter (not clarified) and a few drops of olive oil. I also rarely make the NoLA-style dark brown roux unless I am attempting a gumbo – But – I live in California where these things are highly individual. Roux freezes, so if you make too much, put the extra into the freezer. A video that’s OK about the classic French style of making roux: http://www.5min.com/Video/How-to-Make-a-Roux-148685554
Watch it closely so it doesn’t burn. Set aside when you’ve achieved your roux.
2 peeled carrots, or a handful of “baby carrots”; 3 or 4 Brussels sprouts – cleaned and the ends chopped off. Quarter your Brussels sprouts, or use them sliced like cabbage or whole, depending upon how you like them; 2 onions and 2 garlic cloves, rough chopped, and several chopped stocks of celery with the leaves and the heart if you have one. Quarter one (you just need one) good, sweet tomato of any variety and add to the pot.
Add one bay leaf, more thyme than you think necessary; and, to taste, whole anise seed, a pinch of nut meg and salt and pepper. You do not need to be careful about measurements, just season to taste – make this a couple of times and you will know what works for you. Saute over a low heat until the onions are soft. When I made this earlier today, I used a leek (tossing aside the tough leaves for making stock), a half of a red onion left over from something else, and two big shallots.
When the onions are soft, add 1/2 cup of dry sherry and about a fourth cup of your roux. Sir and check for seasoning. Heat up your soup kettle and pour in your court bouillon – you will need about 6 cups. Add the vegetables, scraping the bottom of the pan for all the bits on the bottom. Cook – very slowly – all day. Around a half hour before dinner, add your favorite fish, both white and red, cut into mouth-sized chunks (not too small), some smoked fish (if you like it), a few large shrimps shelled and cut into pieces (again, not to small), and anything else you might like. Cover and cook, very gently at a low temperature, until the fish is done. If you like some added spice, add in some chopped andouille, calabrese, or hot Italian sausage, cook well. Serve.
If you want to make a real splash with your presentation, steam a few clams or mussels (add in the nectar when they are done), some squid (cleaned), and a couple of crab legs just before serving in a large tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and it looks great at a party.
Add in a basket of fresh bread and a salad.
Music to cook by: The classic “Fish Heads” by Barnes & Barnes: