Bouillabaisse is one of those recipes that seems to have a million variations, all of which seem have some claim to ultimate authenticity associated with them.

So, here's my variation, which comes out differently every time I make it - mainly because I use whatever fish is available - but has absolutely no claim to authenticity whatsoever.

You should use whatever fish can be bought fresh (and cheap!) from the shops or market. I like to use (at least) a firm colourful fish like salmon, a cheap white fish such as cod or river cobbler, some large prawns, and some shellfish such as scallops.

All of the fish should be filleted and skinned, and the shellfish should be free of tails and shells - so you don't have to fight with them at the table!

Clean and separate the corals from the scallops, and slice the meat into two or three thin slices. Marinate in a little salt, pepper and the juice of half a lemon. Similarly, clean the prawns and marinate in a separate bowl. Wash the other fish and cut into even-sized, fairly large pieces.

In a large saucepan, put four tablespoons of olive oil. Add a finely-sliced onion and a sliced stick of celery. Cook very gently on the cooker for five minutes, stiring continuously. Then, add a couple of cloves of garlic, also very finely sliced and cook for a further three minutes. The vegetables should be soft but not browned.

Add the following to the saucepan: three small potatoes, sliced thinly - much more thinly than you would normally choose for potatoes; a tin of chopped tomatoes; a fish stock cube dissolved in half a pint of water; a dried bayleaf; a pinch of dried thyme (optional); the grated rind of half an orange (optional), and a few strands of Saffron (not optional - this is what gives the dish its characteristic taste!).

Bring the contents of the saucepan to the boil and simmer for about ten minutes - the potatoes should be getting close to being cooked before you add any of the fish. Add a pinch of salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

One thing I like to add at this point is a splash of some aniseed-flavoured spirit. I'm sure everyone has a bottle of Sambucca or Ouzo or Pernod that they brought back with them from a seaside vacation. These drinks are fine when combined with iced water and sipped while sheltering from a blazing Mediterranean sun, at a bar overlooking an azure sea, but they do not quite have same effect on a cold wet windy winter evening in Burnley.

Add the fish (not shellfish!) and cook very gently for about five minutes. The fish should be cooked through but not disintegrating. Then, add the prawns and scallops (just tip in the marinade as well), and cook for a minute or so - just enough to make them firm and tasty.

Carefully scoop the fish and shellfish, and arrange on a couple of pre-warmed dishes. Boil up the liquid, then sieve into a bowl. Add the potato slices from the sieve to the dishes, then pour the sieved liquid over the fish and spuds. Serve immediately, with crusty bread and Rouille.

Rouille [ top ]

This is the traditional accompaniment for Bouillabaisse.

Be warned - this sauce contains raw garlic and raw chillies and is defintely not for the faint-hearted!

Put two or three cloves of garlic in a blender or small food processor, and add one (or two, if you must!) small red chillies. Whizz up for a few moments.

Cut the crusts from a slice of white bread and chop into chunks. Add the pieces to the food processor. Add a tablespoon of fish stock - if you are making Bouillabaisse then reserve a little for this purpose. Whizz up again.

Add a tablespoon of good-quality olive oil to the blender. Whizz thoroughly. Repeat twice more with two more spoonfuls of olive oil, until you have a smooth orangy-red paste.

Tip into a small bowl to serve.