With all-star ingredients like saffron and pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur), the recipes we tried weren’t awful, but even the best one needed tweaking. Also, most of the rouilles (a spicy, garlicky, bread-thickened mayonnaise) were heavy and dull.
Most of the recipes browned the chicken skin and then discarded it. We wanted to find a way to get the chicken infused with the flavor of the broth but still keep some crisp skin.
We needed a stew base that was sweet but not cloying, so we settled on fennel for its anise backbone, a few cloves of garlic (sautéed briefly only after the other vegetables had softened), and leeks for their mild sweetness. We found that while a traditional bouillabaisse is only as good as its fish stock, the other ingredients in our chicken version added enough complexity to allow us to get away with using canned chicken broth. To give the broth more body and a long-simmered flavor, we added flour and tomato paste to the pan with the saffron and cayenne before adding the broth and orange zest. We also preferred the pastis added at the start of the simmer, which burned off more of its alcoholic taste, leaving only the essence of licorice. As for other ingredients, white wine added brightness, while drained diced canned tomatoes were the best way to ensure consistently good tomato flavor year-round.
Our chicken was tender and well flavored, but the skin was flabby. Most recipes include browning the skin for flavor and fond, and then disposing of it, but we wanted skin that stayed crisp and stayed on. Steam rising from the simmering liquid was soaking the skin when we tried to cook it in the broth, so we made a switch from the stovetop to the oven, where the heat from above kept the moisture from condensing on the chicken. This change, plus a final stay under the intense heat of the broiler, kept the skin crisp.
Finally, we had to fine-tune our rouille. In order to brighten the mayonnaise, which despite the presence of saffron (steeped in hot water) and cayenne was rather muted, we added lemon juice and Dijon mustard.