Sauce Rouille et Croutes
Region: France, Provence
Category: Basic Recipes and Sauces
Difficulty: Medium Difficulty
In the Middle Ages, there was no doubt that saffron was a luxury spice. Saffron was rare and expensive, and grown for export in only three places: Albi in Languedoc, Aquila in Abruzzo, and in Catalonia. A pound of saffron could cost as much as a horse. In Languedoc and Provence, the local saffron may not have been quite that expensive because it did not have to travel very great distances, although it is always expensive to harvest. The saffron was grown in Albi and bought at the Toulouse or Montpellier spice markets. The most popular spice mix was black pepper and ginger, with the addition of smaller amounts of other spices such as saffron. When black pepper was in short supply in India, traders would replace it with ersatz pepper such maniguette (malaguette), which is known as guinea pepper or grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta), and came from the coast of Guinea from the fifteenth century onwards. A recent study showed that black pepper is used in 16 and 19 percent of the recipes, respectively, in the two earliest French cookery works, the Enseingnemenz qui enseingnent a apareiller toutes manieres de viandes and Quomodo praeparanda et condienda omnia cibaria quae comuniter comeduntur, from the early fourteenth century, and grains of paradise not at all in the first and in 2 percent of the recipes in the second of the manuscripts. But by the time of the famous cookery work the Viandier by the first notable French chef, Taillevent, later in the fourteenth century, grains of paradise appeared in 14 percent of the recipes, meaning that black pepper was in short supply. Once the New World chili peppers began to arrive in the sixteenth century they too were added to the repertoire of spices used in southern France, their piquancy being noted by early writers.
Rouille is the traditional mayonnaise accompaniment to bouillabaisse, containing abundant chili pepper and garlic, a powerful and perilous sauce for many palates. Some cooks add tomato paste for coloring only, but I don't find this necessary because the saffron and cayenne are assertive enough in coloring. In Provencal home cooking, the addition of saffron often allows the cook to call the preparation a "bouillabaisse."
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 1 1/4 cups sauce rouille and 10 servings of croutes
Preparation Time: 1:15 hours
1. Soak the diced bread in the fish broth. Squeeze the broth out. Mash the garlic cloves in a mortar with the salt until mushy. Place the bread, mashed garlic (saving 1 garlic clove for the croutes), red pepper, saffron, egg yolk and black pepper in a food processor and blend for 30 seconds then pour in 1 cup olive oil through the feed tube in a slow, thin, steady stream while the machine is running. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Store whatever you don't use in the refrigerator for up to a week.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the croutes. In a large skillet, melt the butter with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat with the remaining crushed garlic until it begins to turn light brown. Remove and discard the garlic.
3. Lightly brush both sides of each bread slice with the melted butter and oil and set aside. When all the slices are brushed place them back in the skillet and cook until they are a very light brown on both sides. Set aside until needed.
Variation: Another way to make the croutes is to toast them first and then rub both sides with a cut piece of garlic.
Note: If the rouille is separating, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the fish broth and whisk it in until smooth and re-emulsified.