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The Inventory of the Culinary Patrimony of France has this to say about Aziminu: "It's similar to bouillabaise, but its ingredients have never been codified because Corsicans love their soup to be rich and they add as many fish, shellfish, crustaceans, and even little cuttlefish as possible and only those that are totally fresh--by which I mean just pulled out of the water, scarcely knowing the existence of ice. Also, from one port to the next, the fish are altogether different. In spite of all, the soup has its rules. One must first make a stock of little rock fishes--and one must take special care that the bones of these fish are removed from the stock. Then, in principle, one must not use saffron, but rather, most frequently, the sprigs of fresh fennel. If fennel isn't in season, you can substitute a spoonful of pastis (a favorite anise-flavored alcoholic drink)."

Corsican fish stew


Oh, it's just heavenly, this Corsican version of Marseille's Bouillabaise (just across the Ligurian Sea). So beautiful to view; so heady and delicate in aroma; so over-the-top in texture, color, and taste--there's not much that can beat such a magnificent dish, the fennel alone distinguishing it from its ensaffroned bouillabaise cousin. It's a lot of preparation--with the rouille sauce optional--but worth every second. There's no way to use traditional fish--they mostly only grow around Corsican ports--so I've suggested alternatives, perfectly permissible since, as Alan Davidson notes in Food, "In whatever hemisphere, fish tend to fall into broad groups from the point of view of the cook, according to their size, shape, and fat content. ...Substitutions rarely present a problem." The important thing is to use the freshest seafood possible. (For John Lanchester's delightful riff on world fish stews--but not including Aziminu--click HERE). Serve Aziminu hot as a meal to 8 people, with excellent crusty peasant bread on the side for sopping and for the rouille.

For the optional rouille (1½ cups):

Puree all ingredients until smooth. Set aside to cure. It will be passed in a bowl when the Aziminu is served for people to stir into their soup or spread their bread.

For the broth:

  • 2 pounds small Corsican rockfish (possibly substitute smelts or butterfish, though they have a much higher fat content; otherwise striped bass)
  • 1 or 2 small cuttlefish (possibly substitute some squid)
  • 6-8 small crab (use a proportionate amount of crab local to you or obtainable by you)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped (canned are fine)
  • bouquet garni of a small sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 6 sprigs of fennel, and 3 cloves of garlic)
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 13 cups (2 quarts + one cup) boiling water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
For the Asiminu:
  • 6 pounds of at least 5 varieties of fish, cut into uniform pieces. Tradition Corsican fish include rascasse, chapon, grouper, angler fish, red mullet or gurnet, whiting, and sea perch. You may substitute mackerel, small turbot, haddock, sea bass, red snapper, trout, and striped bass.
  • several langouste (spiny lobster), scrubbed. Or substitute 1-2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and cleaned
  • 1 pound mussels or other shellfish, scrubbed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
To prepare and assemble:

1. Scale, clean, and wash all the fish and seafood you are going to use for the dish. That includes cleaning the cuttlefish or squid (see directions under squid); washing the crab and lightly breaking their shells; peeling the shrimp; scrubbing the shellfish.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the 3 Tablespoons of oil to a simmer, then saute the onions for about 10 minutes, until they begin to take on color. Raise the heat to medium, add the tomatoes, bouquet garni of herbs and garlic, and all the seafood for the broth (rockfish, cuttlefish, and crab), and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.

3. Pour the 4 cups of boiling water into the seafood and leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes.

4. Strain the liquid into a large kettle (through dampened cheesecloth if there's a small bone problem; and twice if you're not sure that you got all the bones), pressing to make sure you get all the goodness out of the cooked seafood.

5. Add the 13 cups of boiling water to the broth, salt and pepper to taste, and add the 1/4 cup olive oil. Bring this broth to a lively boil, then begin to add the remaining seafood, never letting the broth stop boiling. First put in pieces of the big sea fish, cover, and let boil for 5 minutes; then add the lobster (if you're using it) and cook 5 more minutes; then add the delicate fish, the shrimp, and the mussels and cook 5 more minutes, when all the mussels should be open.

6. With a strainer, remove all the seafood from the broth and place either in a tureen or in individual bowls. Bring the remaining broth to a high boil and slowly pour in the last 1/4 cup olive oil as an enrichment. Pour over the arranged seafood and serve immediately, passing the rouille and bread separately.