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Bouillabaisse Soup Recipe

Bouillabaisse is a fish soup recipe that comes from the Provence region of France on the Mediterranean coast. This region has had the best of culinary influences, from Classic French cuisine to the north, to Italian and other Mediterranean styles to east, Spanish and Portuguese to the west, and even African to the south.

The name “bouillabaisse” comes from a pair of Proven�al words meaning “to boil” and “to reduce”. This accurately captures the essence of this recipe, as the boiling and simmering reduces the stock, concentrating and intensifying its flavor. This is what caused French author Alfred Capus to call it “fish with the sun.”

Whatever its origins, bouillabaisse is certainly no ordinary fish soup recipe.


For the soup broth:

Bones and shells from the fish and shell fish, completely rinsed
9 cups water
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
10 whole sprigs parsley

For the soup base:

2 large onions, chopped finely
10 garlic cloves, chopped roughly or crushed
2/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 cup parsley, chopped very finely
Salt and pepper to taste
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
Small handful fresh thyme leaves
3 to 5 long strips of orange rind (no white pith)
3 bay leaves
6 to 12 saffron stems
1 jalape�o pepper, chopped finely (remove seeds and white “ribbing”)
1 pound frozen cod, thawed and chopped
1 cup dry white wine
A few splashes of Pernod

For the “body” of the soup:

3 to 4 pounds of various fish or shellfish.

Traditional bouillabaisse has no shellfish, but there is no harm in adding mussels, shrimp, crab or lobster if you feel like it.

There are many kinds of fish you can add to make this your own fish soup recipe. Haddock, red snapper, monk fish, sea bass, striped bass are all good choices. Just avoid the oily, fatty fish such as salmon or tuna, as these will overpower rather than blend in with the other ingredients.

Also, I have never tried using freshwater fish, and I suspect that there would be a definite clash in textures.


1. In a large soup pot, combine all the ingredients for the broth. Bring to a very light boil, and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or so.

2. Run the broth through a strainer, and keep it aside.

3. Heat the oil in the soup pot on medium low to medium heat. Add onions, garlic, parsley, fennel seed (1 teaspoon, not both), and salt. Saute until the onions are soft.

4. Add tomatoes, thyme, orange peel, bay leaves, pepper, saffron and jalape�o. Simmer for up to 30 minutes.

5. Return the fish broth to the soup pot. Add the pound of chopped cod and cook until fish is completely cooked.

6. Remove the orange peel (if it is in large strips) and bay leaves and put them aside. We do not want to puree them.

7. Either use a hand-held blender to puree the soup, or puree in a stand-up blender in batches. Add the bay leaves and orange peels back to the soup, and pour in the white wine and cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Add Pernod.

8. Add the various fish to the soup. Add the longest-cooking fish first so all the fish ends up cooked at the same time.


Bouillabaisse is traditionally served with slices of French bread (I presume the French simply call it “bread”) and rouille, which is a spicy garlic mayonnaise.

Some of the ingredients in this fish soup recipe are expensive. Saffron is the priciest spice by weight that there is, and Pernod is not cheap either. For this reason it might be a good idea to do a “pot luck” version where every guest brings one ingredient, either a pound or two of fish, some saffron, wine, or Pernod. The remaining ingredients are inexpensive enough, and you may even have them all on hand.

Tips and Techniques

Patience is required when making bouillabaisse, or any fish soup recipe where the stock is not pre-made. The best results are achieved if you do not hurry the soup. This is for two reasons.

First, when stock is made from bones, shells, and other parts, the collagen must be dissolved in simmering water in order to release it into the water. If the water is boiling, the collagen will heat up too quickly and coagulate (harden), and will not have a chance to dissolve and seep into the water. This will drastically reduce the flavor of the broth.

Second, Fish cooks relatively quickly at high temperatures. If you turn the temperature up too high you will cook the fish before the flavors of the broth penetrate the fish, or else you will overcook the fish.

Lower temperature and longer cooking time is the way to go with this fish soup recipe, as well as many other seafood soup recipes.

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