Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse is a classic French dish from southern France, in particular, of the port town Marseille. It requires many different varieties of fish, and traditionally was made with whatever the fishermen hadn’t sold that morning. There are plenty of variations of bouillabaisse, and even in Marseille you’ll find strong debates over the proper way to make it.

The most important thing is that you should use several varieties of fish, and the fish should be very fresh. In Provence you would use a variety of Mediterranean fish, but here in the states where we can’t get those fish fresh, we have to make substitutions. Use firm fish for fillets such as sea bass, red mullet, haddock, halibut, cod, conger, or red porgy. Small whole fish can be added as well. Also traditional are mussels, squid, and crab.

Bouillabaisse Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Serves 6.
Yum

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of at least 3 different kinds of fish fillets
  • 1-2 pounds mussels
  • 1 pound squid or crab
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onions
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, or 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • One long, wide strip of orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Sliced rustic French bread, plain or toasted

Directions for Sauce Rouille:

  • 1 Tbsp hot fish stock or clam broth
  • 2 cloves peeled garlic
  • 1 small red hot pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup soft white bread, pulled into bits
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Put hot fish stock or clam broth into the bottom of a blender. Add garlic and red hot pepper, salt and bread. Blend until very smooth. With the blender still running, add olive oil slowly and stop the blending as soon as the oil disappears. At serving time pass Rouille in a little bowl along with the bouillabaisse. Each serving is about 1/2 a teaspoon that you stir into your soup. Use gingerly like Tabasco.

Method

1 Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large (6-8 quart) pot on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions, leeks, and fennel. Stir to coat the vegetables with the olive oil. Cook on medium heat until softened but not browned, about 10-15 minutes. Add the crushed garlic, chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, saffron, salt, and orange zest. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and broken down, about 10 more minutes.

2 Cut fish fillets into 2-inch pieces. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Lay the fish pieces over the vegetable mixture and pour over with 2 cups of boiling water. Bring everything to a boil, and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Add the mussels, squid, and/or crab, pushing aside the fish so that the shellfish is now covered in liquid, and boil for 10 minutes more, uncovered.

3 Remove the bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, and orange zest. Add freshly ground black pepper, and more salt to taste.

4 To serve, remove the fish and shellfish to a platter to keep warm. Place a thick slice of crusty French bread (plain or lightly toasted) in each bowl and put a dollop of the rouille sauce on top of the bread. Ladle the soup broth over the bread, and then portion out fish and shellfish onto the bowls.

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Links:

Bea's Simplified Bouillabaisse recipe

Showing 4 of 13 Comments

  • Cathy

    your recipe is delicious – I have made it for several different guests and they’ve all wanted your recipe. It’s as good as any bouillabaisse dish I had in Marseilles while living in Provence. I don’t believe there are any laws governing the name! Cheers-Cathy from Toronto

  • Sassy J

    This looks delicious–I’ll definitely try. I make a much simpler version with shellfish–quick yet delicious–and usually stock up on fresh fish on sale–freeze until ready. It’s a mix between Italian and Croatian recipes. I simplify to 3 or 4–always including scallops, shrimp, and any fillet such as bass or tilapia, sometimes mussels. It’s so healthy and everyone loves it! For all I care, this as well as your recipe is “Fish Soup” or “cioppino”–but please, bouillabaisse is fine. There are no exact measurements for the fish–whatever you’ve got on hand–between 2-3 pounds. You can easily add more tomatoes or wine–you can’t mess this up–it takes 20-30 minutes tops. You can easily double this recipe.

    The beginning starts the same. I use the food processor for the onions, garlic, and parsley. Basically–saute 1-2 cup white onions (sweet is a nice variation) in 1/2 cup olive oil for several minutes. Toss in several cloves of minced garlic (I love garlic, so I use 4-5). After a few more minutes, add 1 cup white wine (Pinot Grigio)and let it boil. Toss in one bunch chopped parsley. Add one large (28 oz?) can diced or crush tomatoes, and 1/2 cup fish stock. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, and I add a pinch of sugar to offset the acidity of the tomatoes (unless the can has already added sugar–something I try to avoid buying). Add salt and pepper to taste. Typically, I cut the fish fillets in slivers and add them as well as the mussels (often omitted) in their shells, and when almost cooked/open (5 minutes) add shrimp and scallops at the end–3 more minutes. Serve it up–and it tastes even better the next day. It also freezes well and mussels can freeze in their shells. If freezing–wait until next day so flavors can marry.

  • Meaghan

    This recipe is amazing! I ordered Bouillabase at an upscale French restaurant last weekend, and decided to try to recreate that for dinner guests last night. I googled “bouillabase” and came up with your recipe- it was so simple and easy to follow, and the result was, hands down, better than the 5-star restaurant!! Thanks for making me look good! :-)

  • Jenny

    I love the fact that no one is bothered by what name you choose. I’m sure when bouillabaisse is served in Marseille or anywhere else in the world there are no ‘soup police’ checking the list of ingredients to ensure the ‘correct’ version of bouillabaisse. I’m going to cook this tonight. Peace and joy

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