Pinpointing the Je Ne Sais Quoi of France’s Famed Soupe de Poisson
For many of us, certain foods hold the power to evoke specific times, places, and memories just with their aroma or taste. For Gregory Day, soupe de poisson is one such dish. “This has always been one of my very favorite meals when I go down to the South of France,” says Day, who is the president of hospitality at Mani Brothers, LLC, the owner of Malibu Beach Inn. “I’ll have it typically for both lunch and dinner; it’s truly a magnificent dish.”
Pronounced soup du pua-sohn, soupe de poisson literally translates to “fish soup” in French. It is a humble dish, originating in Marseilles and a close cousin to bouillabaisse. Unlike bouillabaisse, however, soupe de poisson leaves out the pieces of fish and crustaceans and lets the rich, briny, umami-filled broth shine.
The soup is traditionally prepared with white fish cooked in a flavorful broth made from tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fennel, and varying herbs and spices. All of the ingredients are cooked together, then puréed (fish bones and all), strained, and pressed before served piping hot. Similar to a bone broth, the final result is velvety and full-bodied, and it’s typically garnished with rouille (an olive oil-based sauce traditionally made with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron, and cayenne), croutons, and Parmesan cheese.
With the cuisine at CBC Restaurant at Malibu Beach Inn taking its inspiration from the Italian and French Mediterranean regions, coastal California cuisine, and its oceanside locale, soupe de poisson seemed a natural fit to add to the menu, says Day. So, a couple years ago, he floated the idea to CBC Restaurant chef Ryan Caldwell.
“Honestly, I wasn’t too familiar with it,” says Caldwell. “Mr. Day and I talked about it and I did a lot of research, but after the first couple of drafts it still wasn’t right. Actually, it took going to a local mariscos [Mexican seafood] place in LA before I really figured it out.”
Caldwell recalls that the first thing he was served at this tiny Mexican restaurant was a thin fish broth. After tasting it, everything clicked. “It tied things together for me in terms of what we were trying to accomplish with this soup, especially the texture and viscosity of this style of soup. It really hit it home for me,” he says.
Seeking a final product that honored traditional versions of the soup and utilized the vegetables he gets from local farms, Caldwell gathered several recipes and looked for a common denominator in them all. Some of the ingredients he identified were white wine, fennel, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and garlic. After much trial and error, together with Day he finally landed on the ideal recipe for Malibu Beach Inn. “It’s simple and approachable and when you take a spoon of it, it transports you somewhere else,” Caldwell says.
The iconic soup is making its way back to the CBC Restaurant menu this month in honor of the Yolo Journal Travel Series’ focus on South of France. The travel series highlighted Italy in September, the Greek Islands in October, and now brings the beauty and charm of the French Riviera to the shores of Malibu.
Upon arrival, guests who book their stay with this exclusive package will receive a welcome gift of the “French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards” cookbook by chef and author Mimi Thorisson, a treat of Triple Cream Brie from Cowgirl Creamery, and a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne, as well as access to a South of France Spotify channel and a year’s subscription to Yolo Journal. Come evening, a three-course French dinner awaits, complemented by French cocktails and a bottle of the South of France’s famed Rumor Rosé. The first dish of that dinner? Soupe de poisson, of course.