They say that Bouillabaisse was invented by fishermen from the picturesque Marseille who would make this simple stew out of the bony rockfish they couldn’t sell to restaurants or markets. So, although the name of this dish might sound a bit posh at first, it really is an easy and, as I found out for myself, super delicious, delicate stew, anyone can cook in 30 minutes!
Trying the traditional Bouillabaisse in Marseille has been on my list of things to do for a while now. It’s the idea of the fish, garlic and saffron flavours mingling in one pan that made it so appealing.
But, probably like most people, I couldn’t see myself traveling that far in any close future, just to try the famous, Provencal, fish stew.
As it happens, one day, our electrician friend – Jonathan in Fort Lauderdale turned up at our door with a bag of fresh catch. (Thanks Jonathan!) That was the perfect opportunity to try and cook the Bouillabaisse at home with his lovely, freshly caught fish. So, I dug out Julia’s recipe, cooked it, tried it and … oh, dear me!
Bouillabaisse is a really simple, fish stew and anyone can put it together in 30 min!
Bouillabaisse stood the test of time and became one of the French cuisine, signature dishes. I read somewhere that French always try to convince one another that their Bouillabaisse recipe is the correct one/better than the others, etc. One thing they agree on though is the selection of fresh fish available mostly in the Mediterranean. We’re talking rockfish, gurnards, mullets, weavers, sea eels, wrasses, and breams responsible for the beautiful flavour.
But, hey! If you can’t get hold of any of those don’t let your enthusiasm deflate just yet and don’t worry about having to chase after weavers or eels. You can’t go wrong with what’s local from your trusted fish counter as long as it is lean and fresh.
My kitchen, fairy-godmother Julia Child, who lived in Marseille for a year, said that it is the combination of fresh fish (ideally more than just one type) and a selection of Provencal herbs what makes this fish stew so delicious, and Julia is always right!
Once again, use fresh, lean fish and, if you can, use more than one type. Add some shellfish if you want to make things super exciting and texture-rich, but if you can’t – not a big deal. Also, Bouillabaisse calls for a good quality fish stock, but you can use canned clam juice instead too!
- ¼ cup (4 tbsp) olive oil
- 1 cup of onions (2-3 smallish onions) - sliced roughly
- 1 cup of leeks (white parts only) - sliced into skinny rings
- 2 cups (4-5 plum tomatoes) fresh tomatoes - chopped roughly
- 1 cup potatoes (2-3 potatoes) - peeled and chopped to dice size
- 4 garlic cloves - chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 one by two inches pieces of orange peel
- 1 tbsp fresh basil (1 tsp dry) - chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh fennel (or 1 tsp dry) - chopped
- 2 pinches saffron threads
- 1 tbsp salt
- 8 cups (2 liters) of fish stock or 8 cups of water and ½ cup canned clam juice
- 3 kg (6 ½ lb) cleaned, fresh, lean fish (rockfish, porgy, pollock, sole, bass, bluefish, catfish, cod, flounder, prawns and shellfish or similar; avoid mackerel, herring, tuna and other oily fish) - sliced to convenient size pieces, but not too small.
- To serve
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley - chopped
- 8-12 croutes - crispy, French style bread, sliced and dried in the oven (look at instructions)
- Heat the oil in a large, deep pan. Add onions, leeks, garlic and cook on a slow to moderate heat, until onions turn translucent (about 10 min).
- Add potatoes, tomatoes, bay leaves, orange peel, basil, fennel, saffron and fish stock (or water and clam juice).
- Bring it all up to a rapid boil and when done, turn the heat down and add the least delicate fish first.
- Mix it all well with a spoon and after 4-5 minutes follow with the rest of (the more delicate) fish, clams and mussels. Cover and allow about 8 minutes or as much time for all the fish to cook through and mussels and clams to open. (Lean fish in general doesn’t need very long to cook - watch it and you’ll see that in a hot stock the hardest one needs no more than about 12 min.) Remember to discard any unopened mussels and clams.
- Preheat oven to 325F (165C) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Slice a baguette or a French style bread into 1 inch pieces, brush one side with oil or melted butter and bake for 15-20 min. Remove from the oven and set aside.