How to Make Bouillabaisse

The fish stew of the Mediterranean has a little magic and a lot of aromatics.

July  7, 2015

How to Make Bouillabaisse by Jessica Bride

There are some foods so evocative of their place of origin that their smell, taste, and texture can immediately transport you—even if your only actual experience of the place in question is from popular culture. A buttery, flaky croissant that's just slightly hard at the edges with a steamy interior that pulls away from the sides like fortified cotton candy? Probably Paris. A viscous cheese fondue: hot, malodorous, and draped over cubes of stale baguette? That’s Switzerland. A big juicy hamburger piled high with lettuce and tomatoes on a proud poufy bun? Welcome to America.

And without question, the aroma of a delicate seafood stock seasoned with fennel, saffron, and orange zest that's towering with glossy mollusks will transport you straight to the South of France, to the port city of Marseilles—the same port city that Julia Child called home for a year in the mid-1950s.

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How to Make Bouillabaisse by Jessica Bride

Marseilles remains proud of one particular creation—bouillabaisse. Dozens of versions of this famous fish soup exist, each one as celebrated as the original. Recipes differ in amounts of tomato, types of fish, and the thickness of the broth. While there may indeed be a difference here or there, in local restaurants the essential elements of bouillabaisse remain the same: stock, seafood, croutons, cheese, and rouille (a spread with an aioli-like consistency made of olive oil, saffron, bread, garlic, and red pepper). Waiters in old coastal establishments in Marseilles make a grand show of serving each component individually so diners can customize their portions. 

More: How to stretch your saffron (and make it more aromatic.) 

How to Make and Enjoy Bouillabaisse by Jessica Bride

The difference between bouillabaisse and any other fish soup lies in the combination of flavors beyond the seafood stock. A hint of saffron, an accent of zested orange, and a few sliced fennel bulbs and fronds bring out an essence from the seafood that would otherwise remain hidden. While they might seem simple, omit any one of these ingredients and the depth of flavor in your bouillabaisse will lose the complexity that earned it such a vibrant reputation.

My preference is a bouillabaisse with a small amount of tomato and generous amounts of fennel and saffron, so the recipe here reflects that. Feel free to experiment by adjusting the amounts of tomato, fennel, orange zest, and saffron to suit your own tastes. Ultimately, a balance of ingredients is the most important factor, as you're aiming for a soup with flavors like a symphony: all in tune but with each instrument only minutely recognizable.

How to Make Bouillabaisse by Jessica Bride


Serves 6

For the bouillabaisse:

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 small bulb of fennel
1/4 cup fennel fronds (plus a few extra for garnish)
1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon warm water for at least 5 minutes
9 cups seafood stock (homemade if possible, Bar Harbor if not)
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled
1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and any beards removed
1/2 pound small hard-shelled clams, scrubbed
3 pounds white fish fillets (such as red snapper, striped bass, grouper, and/or cod), cut into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon Pastis (such as Pernod), optional
Parsley, chopped for garnish
Rouille spread over baguette crisps, recipe below

For the rouille and baguette crisps:

1 cup cubed baguette, most of the crust removed
3 tablespoons water
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons 
bouillabaisse broth or seafood broth
2 large peeled garlic cloves
Extra-virgin olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Jessica Bride

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Jessica Bride is the creator of Belle Année, a food and lifestyle blog dedicated to eating, drinking, living and loving in New Orleans and London.


Belle A. July 16, 2015
Millie: The most amazing thing is the rouille! The combination of adding the broth and the saffron make for the most delicious spread. It also thickens the broth a bit. Make sure to make extra slices of toasted baguette because the rouille makes more than you need. Good luck!
Millie |. July 9, 2015
This looks fantastic and I'm sure people would be impressed at a party, especially the rouille!
Greenstuff July 7, 2015
Whoa! You're stepping into some hot broth, trying to promote a bouillabaisse with some personal preferences. Check out la Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise the rules before you go including those random fish you list, let alone your Gulf of Mexico shrimp! ( Your mussels are acceptable, as long as they aren't overcooked.)

Your fish stew looks great. But without the scorpion fish, the gurnard, the weever, the lotte, the conger eel, the Saint Pierre? or an even older rule, being cooked in air no further than 100 km from Marseilles... You might want to give it another name!