court boullion

I double dog dare you to make a court bouillon.

Traditionally, the term court bouillon simply refers to a flavored poaching liquid that is used to boil seafood.  It usually contains water, wine, herbs, and root vegetables.  It can begin with just water, or a roux.  I prefer the heartier roux based stew version over the simple clear broth version.  I’ll show both below and let you decide.  I can assure you that making a court bouillon is less intimidating than trying to spell it or pronounce it.  It’s “coor boo yone” if you care.

Different recipes for court bouillon range from simple, with as few as 5 ingredients, to elaborate and aromatic.  They are a perfect foil for cooking seafood, as you can develop deep flavor profiles before you toss in your seafood and then quickly poach it when you are ready.  It can work for shrimp, crab, crawfish, oysters, clams, fish fillets, or all of the above.  The broth version can be very simple and light and allows for a lot of experimentation, while the roux version opens the door to learning a classic Louisiana cooking technique.  All good things.

I can remember a time when I was worried about eating any fish dish that was “wet”.  I had ruled out stews, poached dishes, curries, and fish in sauce.  I thought that breaded meant “safe”.  This technique helped break down that wall for me.  I hope that it will expand your repertoire of fish cooking to include a seldom used, but easy technique.


Broth based court bouillon:

Add about 1 gallon of water to a stock pot over high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt.  Add a ½ cup each of chopped onion, chopped carrot, and chopped celery.  Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the water, and then chop the remainder and drop it in as well.  Add one cup of white wine.  Add 3 cloves minced garlic, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and 1 bay leaf.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and keep at a low simmer for 30 minutes.  The liquid should just barely boil with very few bubbles.  Adjust the heat as necessary.

After thirty minutes, reduce the heat just a little bit more.  The right temperature is between 160 and 180 degrees, so below boiling temperature.  You should see some steam, but few bubbles if any.  If you have a thermometer, use it here and shoot for about 165.  Some people strain the liquid before using.  I find it to be unnecessary.  Place your seafood in the liquid and then watch it closely.  A fish fillet, 1 inch thick should take around 5 minutes.  A peeled shrimp will take about the same and a shrimp in the shell will take a little longer.  Other seafood, will take more or less time depending on size, but generally it will be quick.  If you cook it too long, it will be OK, but it will break up.

Bonus points if you use the pan liquid to make a sauce.  Here’s an easy one.  Just before you drop in the fish for the court bouillon above, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan.  Just as it starts to brown, start your fish, add 3 tablespoons of flour to the butter and whisk rapidly for 2 minutes more.  Then grab 1 cup of your court bouillon and slowly add the hot broth to the flour and butter, whisking constantly.  Cook 3 minutes to thicken, maybe more depending on heat, but don’t let it boil.  Add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, salt to taste, and 3 more tablespoons of butter.  Remove from heat and continue stirring for a couple minutes.  When your fish is done, get it on the plate and top with this sauce.


Roux based court bouillon:

As expected, this dish starts with a roux.  A roux is one of the keystones of Louisiana cooking.  It is a good technique to learn as it is a basic building block for many seafood preparations.  In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pan, start with ¼ cup butter over medium heat.  When the butter starts to brown, add ¼ cup of flour and whisk this into a paste.  Cook until it starts to darken, reaching a nice light caramel color.  Add about a cup each of diced onions, carrots, celery, and bell peppers and cook for 5 minutes.  Then add 3 cloves of minced garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Add 1 can of diced tomatoes, 4 cups of stock, 1 cup of dry white wine, 2 sliced lemons, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, a teaspoon of allspice, and cayenne to taste.  For the stock, fish stock is best, but it is hard to come by.  You can buy it from specialty stores or make it yourself, but I’m usually too lazy.  I use vegetable stock or chicken stock.  Bring this all to a rolling boil, then give it a good stir and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste it to make sure the vegetables are done and add salt and pepper as needed.  It should be like a vegetable soup.  Add liquid as needed to thin.  Cook longer to thicken.  Bring the heat back up to a boil and add peeled shrimp and 3 inch long chunks of fish.  Cook until the seafood is done, and try to avoid stirring as it will break up the fish.  Probably about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with hot sauce, salt, pepper, or more cayenne.  Serve immediately over rice.