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.

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Bouillabaisse Recipe

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

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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Bea's Simplified Bouillabaisse recipe

13 Comments

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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! :-)

  4. 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

  5. Kristalina

    Dear Elise!
    Thanks a lot for this wonderful and delicious recipe. In one book was written that only those recipes which contain Mediterranean fish are entitled to the name of Bouillabaisse. I tried yours variation and have to say that it was really really Bouillabaisse!

  6. Belly

    This was amazing! My father uses this recipe, and even without Saffron (I didn’t want to spend the $15 for it today), it was fantastic!
    I used the same recipe but only .25 lb of cod, .25 lb of big sea scallops, 3/4 lbshrimp, 1 cluster of crab legs, and about 5 clams… (would have used Lobster but I didn’t trust the frozen tails they had in the store), I might have put a bit extra onion in there… and added a bit extra pepper, garlic and thyme.
    It was amazing. Will certainly make this again!

  7. Jon

    Great stew! The fuerte del mar con todos! A wonderful meal. I need to try the sauce next time.

  8. Emile

    There is no officiel list for the fishes you can use in a Bouillabaisse.
    But there is a “philosophy” : it must be, mostly, simple and cheap fishes (mediterranean, of course). Not the fishes with wich you can make filets. In French we call these fishes “poissons de roche”, rock fishes, because they live between the rocks or in the marine caves. They are very tasty.

    The reason is simple, it is due to the history of the dish : the historical Bouillabaisse is a fishermen’s dish, a poor men dish, which is made with the fish they caught and are not able to sell (usually the fishes without white flesh, and without filets).
    In old times, very very poor families from Marseille also add a stone frome the sea to add taste to the broth !!! (remove it before serving of course)

    There is a “rich” version of the Bouillabaisse, made with expensive fishes (those with white flesh and filets), it is called Bourride. It is the historical version for the Bourgeoisie.
    But now, it is very different, the Bouillabaisse became an expensive dish in the restaurants of Marseille.

    Emile, from Provence, France.

  9. SteveJ

    Emile has it right. Bouillabaisse was a poor fisherman’s stew, made with everything he caught that was not saleable: heads, bones after filleting, small fish in the net, clam shells, barnacles. I’ve had it that way in traditional French restaurants. My grandmother came from the Black Sea area, and they had a similar soup from fish stock and local greens. (It allowed her family to survive the Russian starvation of Ukraine.)
    It would be interesting to see the Spanish, Italian, Sicilian, Sardinian, etcetera versions of this dish.

  10. gypsyrose

    I made this last night for Christmas dinner for 12 and it was the most delicious thing ever! Everything I have made following your recipes have been truly fabulous. Thank you.

  11. mary taitt

    We love this–it’s a great favorite for company and special occasions.

  12. Philip

    Elise, thanks for this fantastic recipe. I first tasted Bouillabaisse at Alfresco in St Ives, Cornwall, UK and I too wanted to reproduce a meal that had these sorts of tastes for my family when I got back to London. Your recipe is brilliant. I go down to the local fishmongers, select what fish is cheap, add some of my own if I’ve caught any and a few cheap shellfish. I almost always use fresh fish though. I’m not too worried about the quantities as it always works well and each time it’s taste is different and that’s great to get my guests talking. Many thanks for this. You may not be too happy about this but the wine I like to drink with it is a Torrontes wine from Chile as it goes with the strong taste of the tomato sauce well. But if there are any other wines that go with this recipe, I’d be really interested to know.

  13. Cathy

    This was a fantastic and special dinner for Christmas eve. I think we’ve started a new tradition. The only change I made to the recipe was that I used the immersion blender to blend all of the veggies before adding in the fish to cook. I also used a Bouquet garni for the bay, thyme, and cloves. Thank you Elise! Another winner. Merry Christmas.

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