If you're going to use freshwater fish, clean and dehead them, but keep them whole. Make two to three slits on each side. If using large saltwater fish, clean and cut them into either two-inch steaks or fillets. Season the fish generously with salt and cayenne pepper, rubbing the seasonings into the flesh of the fish with your hands.
In a large, deep, heavy pot, slowly heat the butter, then beginning with the fish, layer the ingredients, i.e, the onions, green pepper, celery, tomatoes, then fish, then again the vegetables until all are used. Pour in the wine. Add the shrimp, garlic and bay leaves. Cover and cook over a low fire for 1 to 1 and a half hours. Restrain yourself from peeking in the pot.
Serve the bouillabaisse in deep bowls over steamed rice. Be sure to have plenty of hot French bread to "sop up" the juice.
Makes 8 servings