The most famous fish stew of the Mediterranean is bouillabaisse, and its home is considered to be Marseilles, France. Marseilles is located on the southeast coast of France in the Provence region. This is the second-largest city in the country and is the oldest city in France. Marseilles, due to its coastal position along the Mediterranean Sea has also made it France’s largest commercial port.
Bouillabaisse is made up of many typical ingredients of the Mediterranean: fresh seafood, olive oil, fennel, garlic, tomatoes, orange, and saffron. A good Bouillabaisse can produce a cult-like following for a bistro. It is an absolutely delicious and flavorful way to showcase the coastal fish that swim in the rocky outlying areas off the coast of the Provence region. Traditionally, all fish used in this recipe will be caught, cooked, and served all on the same day!
One factor that all bouillabaisse lovers will agree on, is that a good bouillabaisse is a two-step process. First, it must begin as a fortified fish soup- “soupe de poisson.” The soupe de poisson is then transformed into the bouillabaisse. This is a lengthy and time-consuming recipe, that if done right, is worth every ounce of effort. There is no fast version of making a good bouillabaisse.
I personally suggest that you make a bouillabaisse only when you have the time to dedicate to it. Approach it with a fun attitude, with some French bistro music playing in the background and a nice chilled bottle of your favorite French wine ready to pour. This will be cooking in the spirit of the dish and it will turn this lengthy recipe, into a fun-to-make, delicious timeless classic that you will want to make time and time again.
This recipe is a “tale of two soups”where one leads ultimately to the other “Soupe de Poisson” to “Bouillabaisse.”
Start by making the Soupe de Poisson
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5-1/2 pounds assorted fish such as rockfish, rosefish, blackfish, or wolf-fish, cut into large dice
- Fish heads, (gills removed) along with the bones from the above fish should be reserved and utilized in the broth
- 1 onion, peeled and cut into fine dice
- 1 leek, white part only, washed well and cut into fine dice
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice
- 1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
- 1/2 medium fennel bulb, cut into small dice
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 strips of orange zest (preferably dried)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound canned, peeled whole Italian tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand
- 2 heads garlic, halved crosswise
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 sprig curly parsley
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.
Soupe de Poisson
1) Fish Sauté
- Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat.
- Season the fish with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, add the fish to the pan in batches and saute until nicely browned.
- 8 to 10 minutes per side. As the fish pieces are done, transfer them to a large pot. Set aside.
2) Vegetable Sauté
- Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan.
- When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the onion, leek, carrot, celery, fennel, thyme, and bay leaf to the pan and saute until the onion is translucent approximately 4 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and the garlic and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they begin to break apart.
- Turn the contents of the pan out into the pot with the fish.
3) Combining the Ingredients
- Set the pot with the fish and the vegetables over high heat.
- Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until it evaporates.
- Add 9 cups water, the star anise, parsley, orange zest, and saffron.
- Lower the heat and let the soup simmer for 45 to 50 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, make rouille.
- 1 large Idaho potato, scrubbed clean
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 dry red chile
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1/4 cup warm water
- Put the potato in a large pot and cover it with cold water. (Leave whole and unpeeled)
- Set over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Let boil until the potato is done, approximately 15 minutes. (A sharp thin-bladed knife should pierce easily to its center.)
- Drain the potato and set it aside to cool. When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel and cut into medium dice.
- Pour 1/2 cup of olive oil into the bowl of a blender.
- Add the saffron, chili, and garlic, and blend until smooth.
- With the motor still running, add the potato and warm water and continue to blend until well incorporated and smooth.
- Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Finish the “Soupe de Poisson”
- Pass the soup through a food mill set over a bowl, or puree it in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and transfer it to a bowl.
- Pass a second time through a china cap, and reserve the liquid.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- The soup can be made to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator to allow flavors to develop.
TO MAKE: BOUILLABAISSE
- Place the soup de poisson in a pot and set over high heat. Reduce by 1/4 then lower the heat.
- Peel 2-3 potatoes, cut into large cubes, and add to broth to cook until almost “al dente”. Then begin to add the fish. (See TIPS below)
- Add an assortment of shellfish, such as squid and mussels, and 2-inch cubes of John Dory; grouper; hake; red snapper; rockfish or monkfish and let the fish poach just until cooked through in the reduced soup.
- Add the large and firm fish first. Let poach a few minutes, then add the shellfish (if using), then the flaky white fish.
- Do not boil the soup once the fish has been added. Simply let it poach and allow the fish to gently cook in the broth nice and slowly.
- Taste for seasoning one more time, portion into soup bowls, serve with the rouille crouton on the side.
Click here to see a nice video of Marseilles, Avigon, and aix-en-Provence