Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of 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 UK 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.
Use firm fish for fillets such as sea bass, red mullet, haddock, halibut, cod, or conger. Small whole fish can be added as well. Also traditional are mussels, squid, and crab.
Like many culinary classics, bouillabaisse started out humbly. Once a cheap meal for hungry French fishermen, now it’s considered a feast fit for a king.
Bouillabaisse A La Marseillaise
- 2 baby fennel
- 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion large, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 leeks white part only, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fennel seeds crushed
- 1/4 tsp firmly packed saffron threads
- 1.75 litre fish stock
- 1 kg ripe tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 1/2 orange peeled into strips
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 60 ml Pernod
- 1200 g whole john dory filleted, halved lengthwise
- 1400 g whole flathead fish filleted, cut into 6cm pieces
- 16 large green king prawns peeled with tails intact, cleaned
- 4 scampi halved lengthwise
- 400 g mussels scrubbed, bearded
- 400 g clams vongole, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes
- Thinly sliced baguette (brushed with oil and toasted), to serve
- Trim fennel tops, reserving trimmings for stock and fronds for serving, and chop fennel finely. Heat oil in a large saucepan or casserole over medium heat. Add fennel, onion, celery, garlic, leeks and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until vegetables soften.
- Meanwhile, combine saffron and 125ml of fish stock in a small bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to steep.
- Peel tomatoes, remove seeds and discard, then chop finely. Add tomato paste to vegetables in pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the saffron mixture, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, orange peel and the remaining stock to the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Season generously with salt. Stir in cayenne and Pernod.
- Add the fish to the pan, then prawns and scampi, making sure the seafood is submerged in the liquid. Cook for 5 minutes or until seafood is just cooked. 5 Meanwhile, place mussels, clams and 2 tablespoons water in a frying pan over high heat. Cover with a lid and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, for 3 minutes or until the shells open.
- Divide bouillabaisse among bowls. Top with clams and mussels and scatter with reserved fennel fronds. Serve with toasts and rouille
“To the French, bouillabaisse without rouille is like Marseille without sunshine. This ruddy, bread-thickened sauce adds an essential garlicky richness and delivers a true burst of Mediterranean flavor.”
Rouille sauce is the perfect accompaniment to fish soup, and is eaten on croutons of garlic-rubbed bread, and is in the form of a spicy mayonnaise. Also, its rusty color (brown-red) is the origin of its name.
When the rouille is prepared, keep it chilled in the fridge until it is served, either the same day or the next day. Before serving, if the rouille is stiff, thin it with a few drops of boiling water.
- 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.