Bouillabaisse, Hawaii-style

Oahu chef Alan Wong makes the most of Pacific seafood ― the heart of this extraordinary stew
LINDA LAU ANUSASANANAN

The moment the bowl was placed before me, I knew that chef and restaurateur Alan Wong's answer to the great French fish stew called bouillabaisse was a winner. Appropriately, Hawaii-grown fish and clams, and Maine lobster reared in Kona, were floating in the herb-scented saffron broth. The pungency of garlic and the unexpected sweetness of basil blended into an aromatic siren. A long, slender crouton was anchored at attention by the mashed potatoes mounded in the center of the bowl.

One spoonful and I was hooked. Each bite unveiled a fresh nuance. The creamy potatoes, laced with crab, held a hint of garlic provided by the aioli. The aioli also added to the complex flavors of the delicate broth and various fish. The crunchy baguette crouton had a touch of garlic, too.

Wong, who developed a passion for bouillabaisse while working with French chefs in New York City, takes an approach that's far less daunting than the traditional one. Instead of working from a staggering list of ingredients, he breaks the dish down into five individual recipes, each of which stands on its own and has steps that can be completed ahead. These separate elements unite quickly to become bouillabaisse.

Translating this French classic to the Pacific is hardly a leap of faith. In Tahiti, the French have created Gallic versions of many local recipes. Your translation will likely differ from Wong's ― which he serves in the Oahu restaurant that bears his name ― depending on your fish options. But some Hawaiian fish are distributed on the Mainland, and other fish work well, too. As Wong has demonstrated, each variation adds to the literature of bouillabaisse.