Bouillabaisse is a classic and delicious French fish soup. Typically it includes a variety of fresh fish and is served topped with a large crouton dressed with a mayonnaise sauce known as rouille; made of olive oil, garlic, saffron, and a red chilli pepper.

As with so many traditional recipes there are many different variations all with various accolades and supporters who will claim the one true version. (It is suggested that the people of Marseilles do not accept that it is possible to make a real bouillabaisse outside of the French Riviera).

However bouillabaisse was originally a stew made by Marseille fishermen, using the bony fish which they were unable to sell to restaurants or in the markets.  As such it is a robust and flexible dish and there are many different ingredients that will work well together.

What Fish Are In A Bouillabaisse?

Wikipedia mentions the following:

In 1980, 11 Marseille restaurateurs collaborated to draw up the Bouillabaisse Charter which codified both ingredients and method of preparation. An authentic Marseille bouillabaisse must include rascasse (Scorpaena scrofa), a bony rockfish which lives in the calanque and reefs close to shore. It usually also has congre (eng: European conger) and grondin (eng: sea robin). According to the Michelin Guide Vert, the four essential elements of a true bouillabaisse are the presence of rascasse, the freshness of the fish; olive oil, and an excellent saffron.

For those of us not in Marseille; the most important thing is that you should use several varieties of fish, and the fish should be very fresh. The distinctive Provencal flavours of a bouillabaisse is key element of the dish  which should include garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, orange peel and bay. There should also be a note of aniseed that comes from the fennel and maybe a splash of pastis.

Come and see us for some firm fresh fillets such as sea bass, red mullet, haddock, gurnard, halibut, hake or cod, that will all work well in the recipe. Also traditional are small whole fish, mussels, squid, mussels and crab. You should avoid oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon.

Our recipe below gives some tasty suggestions but you can change according to preference and what is available on the counter. Talk to us in advance if you have a specific request. NB It is worth making this dish for a large number of lucky people as it allows you to include a good variety of fish.

If you are fortunate to be close to the Mediterranean, get rascasse and other small rockfish. You want to make a more luxe version of the bouillabaisse try adding lobsters and/or some large prawns.

The quantities below are for six people. There are a lot of ingredients and it takes a little time but its not a very difficult recipe to make.

Ingredients For Bouillabaisse

1kg of filleted mixed fish From Walter Purkis & Sons each fillet cut into large chunks. (red and grey mullet, monkfish, John Dory, hake and gurnard will all work particularly well)
If you would like to make your own stock keep the bones and trimmings from your fish purchase
1 leek
small bunch fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
Bunch flat leaf parsley, stalks whole, leaves roughly chopped
2 strips of orange peel
1 mild red whole chilli
Olive oil
2 Medium onions, chopped
1 fennel bulb, fronds picked and reserved, fennel finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 star anise
2 tbsp Pernod, optional
4 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
large pinch (⅓ tsp) saffron strands
1 ½l fish stock make you own or purchase ready made from Walter Purkis & Sons
100g potato whole and peeled
300g mussels From Water Purkis & Sons optional/in season

Ingredients For Rouille & Croutons

2 garlic cloves
1 red chilli  seeds removed (optional)
small pinch saffron
100g piece of potato, cooked in the broth
2 egg yolk
200ml olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Baguette sliced for croutons
1 tbsp olive oil

How to Cook Bouillabaisse

Create the broth with vegetables, aromatics, herbs and fish stock. Cook the fish pieces in the stock.

Prepare the leek by removing the top green leaves and keep whole. finely chop the lower white/pale green parts. Use the green leaves to wrap all the herbs(Thyme, bay leaves,  parsley stalks, orange peel and  whole chili.) tie up the bundle with string. Select a large heavy pan that will be able to hold all the ingredients. Heat four tablespoons of oil, fry the onions, fennel and leeks. When they soften and start to colour add the chopped garlic.  Cook for a further 5 minutes add the tomatoes. When all the vegetables have softened add the herb bundle, star anise, puree and dash of pastis. Pour in boiling water or heated fish stock, stir well and raise the heat to high. Season with salt and pepper, add the rest of the oil and continue to boil vigorously until the oil is properly mixed and no longer floating on the surface, then add the saffron. Put in the piece of potato (keep a watch and remove when well cooked ready for the rouille). Simmer the pan gently for about 30 mins. (Now is a good time to make the rouille).

Remove the herb bundle and the star anise. Leave as is for a more rustic chunky broth or blitz with a hand blender and strain if you want a more refined look. You are now ready to cook the fish in the broth. Bring the liquid back to a gentle boil.

The trick here is to put the fish in the pan in right order so they all cook for the right amount of time. Start with the thicker denser potions that will need the longer time. Wait a few minutes then add the thinner or more delicate fillets. Add any shellfish and cook till the shells open. In all cooking times should be 12 minutes total. Remove the fish portions with a slotted spoon and place on a warm serving plate.

There are differing schools of thought on how to serve the dish. One camp like to serve the broth first with the crouton and rouille and followed with the cooked fish on a platter as a second course. Others prefer all together where the fish and soup are put on the table and the diner eats both together in a large bowl. If you cook the fish or in larger chunks or whole you may wish to break up the larger pieces into individual portion sizes and remove any bones before arranging on the platter.

Garnish the soup with the crouton and the fish with chopped parsley and any fennel fronds.

How to Make Rouille

This rusty orange, potato thickened sauce adds an lovely garlic richness and packs a rich Mediterranean flavour. Place red chilli pepper, saffron and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Blend well. Add the egg yolks and continue to blend while gradually adding the olive oil until you get a nice viscous consistency. Add cooked potato and pulse until well mixed. Season to taste with salt. Put to one side ready to serve with the croutons. Some versions of this recipe suggest you can also make this with a similar volume of bread crumbs instead of potato. To make the croutons heat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Lay the slices of bread on a flat baking tray in a single layer, drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 15 mins until golden and crisp. These can be made a day ahead and kept in an airtight container. Rub the crouton with a garlic clove before you serve.

If you are looking for more fish soup or stew recipes check our blog here >>