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.
The distinctive flavors of a bouillabaisse broth include saffron, which also gives it its orange color, orange zest, and fennel.
Which Fish Are Used in Bouillabaisse?
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.
Make-Ahead Bouillabaisse Strategies
It's best to cook the seafood for bouillabaisse just prior to serving, but you can prepare other parts of the recipe ahead of time. Make the sauce rouille in Step 1 and cook the vegetables and aromatics in Steps 2 and 3 up to two days ahead of time, keeping them refrigerated in airtight containers.
Other Seafood for French Fish Stew
We recommend firm fish such as sea bass, red mullet, haddock, halibut, cod, conger, or red porgy as well as small whole fish. Readers have also enjoyed tilapia in their bouillabaisse.
For shellfish, our recipe calls for mussels, clams, squid, or crab but you might also try shrimp or sea scallops in the mix.
French Dishes to Try with Bouillabaisse
- Leeks Vinaigrette
- French Green Beans (Haricot Verts) with Herbs
- Spinach Gratin with Hard Boiled Eggs
- Provençal Endive Salad
- Caramelized Onion Quiche
- Sauce Rouille:
- 1 tablespoon 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
- 3 pounds of at least 3 different kinds of fish fillets (such as sea bass, red mullet, haddock, halibut, cod, conger, or red porgy), cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 pound mussels or clams
- 1 pound squid or crab
- 1/4 cup extra virgin 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 fennel seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 teaspoons salt
- One long, wide strip of orange zest
- 1 cup clam juice or fish stock
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Sliced rustic French bread, plain or toasted
Make the sauce rouille:
Put the hot fish stock or clam broth into the bottom of a blender. Add the 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. Set aside.
Cook the onions, leeks, and fennel:
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 garlic, tomatoes, salt, and aromatics:
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.
Add the fish:
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. Add clam juice or fish stock. Bring everything to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.
Add the shellfish:
Add the mussels, squid, and/or crab, pushing aside the fish so that the shellfish is now covered in liquid, and simmer for 10 minutes more, uncovered.
Add freshly ground black pepper, and more salt to taste. Remove the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and orange zest from the broth.
Serve with bread and rouille:
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.