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What's Up Magazine

The Dish: Main Ingredient's South County Bouillabaisse

Feb 28, 2011 11:59PM ● By Ashley West

Fresh seafood, a hearty broth, and seasonal vegetables coalesce into a French classic with a touch of Maryland flair: South County Bouillabaisse. Chef Williams notes that this is a flexible recipe, meaning the ingredients, particularly seafood, can be adjusted to one’s taste. We also chatted with Chef Williams about his background, how he came to Main Ingredient, and the inspiration of this recipe. 


South County Bouillabaisse

By Main Ingredient
914 Bay Ridge Rd., Annapolis


What’s Up?: How did your culinary begin?

Chef Geoffrey Williams
: I started as a dishwasher at the Blue Channel in Arnold, when I was in high school, moving up to steamed crabs, and finally a spot on the line. I earned an economics degree from George Washington University and left for New York City. Working in kitchen full-time was the furthest thing from my mind, but I couldn’t seem to stay away. Working in a kitchen is the only job I’ve ever had that doesn’t feel like a job; it’s just what I love to do and who I am.

: Describe the culinary influences present in your dishes.

: I grew up in Anne Arundel County, so a lot of my dishes are definitely regional in nature, with special attention paid to the seasonality of the dishes. My grandfather was Italian, and I grew up watching him cook, so his influence is in everything I do. However, at the end of the day I cook food from all over the world. 

WU: How did you come to work at Main Ingredient?

GW: I had just quit yet another non-kitchen job, and was looking for some part-time work while I figured out what to do next. I had a friend working here, but at the time there were no openings. Lucky for me the grill cook stopped showing up and it went from “we don’t have a job for you” to “can you work every day?” I was installed as the new sauté guy in short order, and moved up to sous chef in six months, taking over as chef four years later.

WU: What do you like most about your job?

GW: Having creative control of the menu is a big deal. If I get an itch to make something, I make it. The Main Ingredient caters to a loyal neighborhood clientele allowing me a good deal of customer contact. Customers will ask for something they have had in the past and we try to accommodate them. I like the smaller size of our café, and the sort of homey feel it has to it. I also have a wonderfully talented staff, which makes my day so much easier.

: What makes South County Bouillabaisse special to you?

: The first time I tried this new recipe, I cooked it for my wife and she absolutely loved it. Our meal ended with me making fun of her for licking the plate. I thought I was onto something.

: Are there any special techniques/ingredients/utensils/cookware used for this dish?

: It is pretty straight forward. It does call for saffron, which is pricey, and Pernod, which can be found at most decent liquor stores.

WU: Is this recipe traditional, or have you modified it?

GW: This dish is loosely based on a traditional French bouillabaisse, with a bit of local flavor worked into it. When I came up with the recipe I was looking for a dish that provided the diner with a taste of different seafood all wrapped into one dish. 

: Is this dish easy or difficult to prepare at home?

GW: An experienced home cook should be able to make this, no problem. Because of its stew like nature, there is plenty of wiggle room for adjustments.

: Is there a particular wine/drink that pairs well with this dish?

GW: In the summer, I would say a crisp white wine, such as a pinot grigio, would play off the flavors nicely. In the colder months, you could make the experience a heartier one with a Porter or Stout beer.

South County Bouillabaisse
4 servings

2 cups diced white onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced fennel (white root only)
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. dry basil
Salt & pepper to taste
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups white wine
Pinch saffron
Zest from 1/2 orange
1/2 cup Pernod (anise-flavored liqueur)
1 qt. seafood stock (crab, fish, lobster or a combination)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. seafood of choice (scallops, rockfish, shrimp or a combination)

1) In large pot season onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and fennel with salt and pepper, and sauté in olive oil until soft, about 10–15 minutes. 2) Deglaze with white wine, and add pinch of saffron. Reduce wine by half. Meanwhile roughly puree 1/2 the can of tomatoes. 3) In separate sauté pan heat and burn alcohol off the Pernod (be careful), reducing by about half, add to vegetables. Add tomatoes, orange zest, and a pinch of salt to vegetables and cook 5–8 minutes. Add stock and cook another 15 minutes until desired consistency is reached. The bouillabaisse should be slightly soupy, and the vegetables soft.

This is only the base for the dish, and can be done a day or two ahead of time. 4) Complete the dish by sautéing any mixture of seafood you like. I use shrimp, scallops, and rockfish. 5) Cook the seafood about half-way, then deglazed the pan with a bit of white wine, add the bouillabaisse and some jumbo lump crab meat, and simmer for several minutes to finish cooking the seafood. 6) Finish the dish with a pinch of basil chiffonade, and serve with warm, crusty bread and butter.