On Being Rascasse

Rascasse may or may not be the king of the South of France, but its flavor is essential to true Provençal bouillabaisse.

Jean-Bernard Naudin

There are two common varieties of rascasse in the Mediterranean: the more noble rouge (also called chapon or capoun in Provence), and the noire or brune—the "just plain" rascasse of the bouillabaisse maker. Both are small fish with large, bony heads, sharp teeth, and venomous spines—accounting for the fish's English name, scorpion fish. The word rascasse may derive from a Provençal word for moth, perhaps because the fish's skin is speckled like a moth's wings. It's also a Provençal word for a stingy person.

While the fish is ubiquitous in Provence, it's hard to find in the United States. Joe Lucchese, a former seafood department manager at Balducci's, the New York specialty market, carried it once or twice, he told us, but no one knew what it was. "Finally," he said, "it was bought by a jeweler who wanted to make an impression of its head."