Provencal Seafood Bisque

Hank made this seafood bisque for us the other day and it was so outrageously good I begged him to make it again. I served some of it to a friend from Provence whose eyes lit up upon tasting it, “This is just like we have at home! ‘Bisque de Fruits de Mer'”. The saffron is essential, and even though I usually don’t like saffron, this soup has turned me into a saffron lover. I hope you make it. ~Elise

This is a curious, blended fish soup I’ve been making, in various forms, for many years. I like blended soups, which can seem creamy even without cream – although this one does have a little cream added at the end. They’re just, well, more refined than a typical country soup. And sometimes I feel the need for a touch of elegance, even on a busy midweek night.

One of the things that makes this soup so lovely? It only takes about 30 minutes to make. Yet, eaten with fresh bread and a glass of wine, you feel like you’re sitting at an oceanside bistro in Provence; there is a similar soup made like this in the South of France.

The flavor comes mostly from the stock (shellfish stock or a combination of fish stock and clam juice), the orange zest and saffron. You cannot substitute something else for the saffron; its color and aroma are integral to the soup. A pinch of cayenne adds the faintest zing that brings everything together. For fish I used a Pacific flounder. You can use any mild, white fish: Cod, haddock, any flatfish (flounder, fluke, halibut, sole, turbot, etc), walleye, bluegill, or rock cod.

Blend this soup well. You want a smooth, silky texture, not a grainy one. I puréed the soup first with an immersion blender, then poured it into a regular blender to finish. In the past I’ve even passed it through a fine-meshed drum sieve to make it even smoother. But you need not go to such lengths. The soup will be just fine if it is well blended.

Once its blended and you add the cream in, don’t let the soup boil; it could break. And if you have leftovers, just heat them gently in a pot until warm enough to eat.

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Provencal Seafood Bisque Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

The soup is particularly good served with crusty French or Italian loaf bread for dipping.

Ingredients

  • 3 slices of bacon, roughly chopped (can substitute olive oil or butter, 3 Tbsp)
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 pound white fish fillets, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of orange zest
  • A pinch of cayenne
  • A large pinch of saffron
  • 1 quart of shellfish stock, OR 16 ounces of clam juice plus 16 ounces of fish stock or water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt to taste

Method

1 Cook the bacon on medium heat in a 6 to 8 quart pot until it is crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot with a slotted spoon. Set aside on a paper towel to use for garnish later.

2 Increase the heat to medium high and add the onions, celery and carrot. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. Do not brown. Sprinkle some salt over everything as it cooks.

3 Add the fish, tomatoes and the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring often.

4 Add the orange zest, cayenne and saffron, then pour in the shellfish stock or whatever stock you are using. In a pinch you could even use chicken or vegetable stock, but the flavor of the soup will be different. Simmer this gently – do not let it get to a rolling boil – for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5 Get another pot ready. Fill a blender a third of the way with the soup and blend it on high (starting on low then increasing to high) for 1 minute, or until it is well puréed. Work in batches to purée the rest of the soup. Pour the puréed soup into the clean pot.

6 Put the soup on medium-low heat and add the cream. Stir well and taste for salt, adding if needed. Do not let this boil! Or it might break.

Serve garnished with bacon bits or dill fronds, and alongside some crusty bread. A dry rose or light red wine would go well with this; I’d suggest a Beaujolais or a Pinot Noir.

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13 Comments

  1. Sally JPA

    I’m not usually a huge saffron fan, either, so I’ll have to give a dairy-free version of this a go and see if it changes my mind!

  2. CopyKat Recipes

    What a wonderful and freshing seafood bisque. I recently had some that was quite bad, their base was tilapia and it just wasn’t good. You have inspired me to make some of this hearty soup very soon. I think the orange zest is a surprsing touch, I have always simply added lemon juice to seafood based dishes. I look forward to trying this recipe very soon.

  3. Keli

    Maybe I’m being dense, but how much fish do I use and when do I add it?

    When I read the introduction, I was really excited to read that some of the fish I cook with frequency here in Minnesota were actually listed by name instead of as simply “other mild white fish”. Walleye, sunnies and crappies (pronounced CRAW-pees) are fabulous fish with great flavor, but they are almost completely ignored when it comes to recipes outside of cookbooks dedicated to game, fishing or Midwestern recipes. Thanks Hank and Elise!

    I’ve fixed the recipe; fish goes in with the tomatoes and garlic. And I used to live in Minnesota, so I have lotsa love for walleyes, perch and crappies! ~Hank

  4. Karen

    Can I turn this into a Shrimp Bisque by subbing an equal amount of shrimp? Good, fresh fish can be hard to find in my neighborhood. But good shrimp can be a bit easier. Eager to try this one as I have four quarts of the shellfish stock in the freezer just waiting for this recipe.

    I suppose. Give it a go! ~Hank

  5. Morgan

    Looks delicious. How should the fish be prepared?

    Chopped roughly, tossed in the pot. ~Hank

  6. NatashasKitchen.com

    Do you know if saffron is easy to grow? Where do you get your saffron?

    I get my saffron from the store. It is extremely difficult to grow yourself – it is the stamen of a particular type of crocus flower. ~Hank

  7. foodess

    That sounds SO GOOD! Bacon? Orange zest? Yes please!

  8. Jeanne Benedict

    Just the photo for this bisque instantly warmed me up and made me long for a bowl in front of a fireplace at a ski lodge with a glass of Chardonnay.

  9. Bella

    Can this be made into a lobster bisque by replacing the white fish?

    But of course! ~Hank

  10. Brian

    Made this recipe last night. Ended up using a half pound of tilapia and a half pound of salad shrimp.

    I liked the soup, but thought that perhaps the orange was a little over powering. If I try it again, I think I’d start with the zest of 1/2 an orange.

    I definitely agree on the 30 minutes cooking time, add a bit for prepping the fist two waves of ingredients.

  11. Joannenicole

    I know you’re not a sommalier, but what wine would you suggest with this? Your description of sitting down to this lovely bisque with a glass of wine and some crusty bread sounded absolutely divine.

    I’d recommend anything from a dry, Spanish or French rose to a white Cote du Rhone blend. You could do worse with a California Viognier, too. ~Hank

  12. Terri

    It’s a hit! My hubby & I just finished this off and sure wish we had tried it earlier in the winter season! I used cod, clam juice as the base, and realized I didn’t have saffron. After pureeing, I added some shelled/deveined shrimp I had on hand. It was extremely good! We both loved the hint of orange zest & cayenne!
    I’ll be making this many times. I’m thinking this will be my new “gift” meal with crusty bread and a bottle of wine!

  13. SeattleDee

    OMG, this was scrumptious. Just ‘cuz I love tweaking recipes, I added a finishing splash of pernod and topped the bisque with a scattering of fresh Dungeness chunks.

    Your recipe was a treat, but I’m really excited about the link to shellfish stock. My previous fish stock fiasco was not inspiring.

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