National Bouillabaisse Day

Photo by Henry Perks


Bouillabaisse is a hearty seafood stew that harkens back to ancient Greece, where Marseille was founded in 600 BC. To be authentic, the classic French soup must include Provence, France’s indigenous red scorpion fish.


However, in the United States and elsewhere, we substitute red snapper, sea bass, grouper, cod, or some other fish. Bouillabaisse comes from the old word “bolhahaissa,” which means to boil and simmer.

Many people believe Bouillabaisse and Cioppino are interchangeable, but they are not quite the same. Cioppino has a rich, tomato-based broth and, while it includes a firm-fleshed white fish, Cioppino usually emphasizes special shellfish, such as king crab legs or lobster (depending on your location). The broth for Bouillabaisse uses a spicy, white fish stock as a base, with some diced tomatoes added. Bouillabaisse is also characterized by the addition of saffron or fennel, plus white potatoes and often some orange peel. (Unless I want them for thickening purposes, I tend to omit the potatoes.)

Photo by Stefan Schauberg

When serving Bouillabaisse, the broth and fish are generally served separately, along with hearty, sliced bread with a rouille spread, which is like a garlicky mayonnaise. In truth, to Super Simplify this, serve garlic French bread… and picture yourself sitting at a sunny surfside table in the south of France. But, of course! Oui, oui!


This is Super Simplified of the full-on version. Now and then, I enjoy preparing recipes with many ingredients when the end result is a traditional and timeless classic.

1 each: leek and lg sweet onion, chopped

28-oz canned petite-diced tomatoes

¼ – ½ tsp each: cayenne pepper & red pepper flakes

1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, 4 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig tarragon, 2 whole cloves, & 6 peppercorns)

Olive oil (½ cup)

2 lb white fish… sea bass, halibut, grouper, cod; cut in chunks

2 each: carrots & celery stalks, finely chopped

¼ c pinot grigio (or other dry white wine)

1 tsp orange zest (or crushed dried orange peel)

3 qts fish stock

Salt to suit your taste

½ – 1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 1/8 c hot water

Meat from 2 lobsters (1-2 lbs each), cut into pieces

1 lb. lg large or jumbo shrimp, shelled & deveined

½ lb sea scallops, rinsed & patted dry

1 lb mussels, rinsed & scrubbed

4 oz calamari rings

1 T finely chopped or minced garlic

4 T fresh lemon juice (1 medium-sized lemon & its zest)

¼ c finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a glass bowl, combine ¼ of the leeks, onion, and garlic. Stir in all the diced tomatoes, cayenne, red pepper flakes, bouquet garni, and ¼ c olive oil. Add fish chunks to the bowl, stirring to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat remaining olive oil in a large Dutch oven over med heat. Sauté remaining leeks and onions, plus all the carrots and celery for 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic; continue cooking & stirring for 3 min. Then stir in wine, orange zest, fish marinade (but NOT the fish chunks), and the fish stock. Salt to suit your taste. Bring to a simmer for 15 minutes; stir in saffron. Stir in fish and mussels; let cook 5 -7 minutes. Then add shrimp, scallops, calamari, lemon juice (& zest); let cook another 3-4 min. Then stir in lobster and parsley. Divide among warmed soup bowls and serve. Serve with toasty garlic bread. Makes 4-6 servings.

KISS Tips: There are some amazing products on the market now, such as Better Than Bouillon. I like adding a T of their Lobster Better Than Bouillon to fish stew bases. Though completely non-traditional, I love this 2-3 slices of hearty, diced bacon, cooked before the leeks and onions. Oh, yeah!!! To prepare bouillabaisse the old-school way, divide your fish and seafood into warmed soup bowls and serve, ladling broth over the top of each bowl. (You can even start with a slice of your garlic bread in the base of the bowl.) Or serve the bowls with the broth in them and pass a platter with all the fish and seafood on it. Would you like to fancify this with some traditional, old-world flavor? After adding saffron to the base, heat ¼ c Pernod (anise-flavored French liqueur) briefly, ignite, and pour over the bouillabaisse.

About Cathy Burnham Martin

Author of 20+ books, and counting! A professional voice-over artist, dedicated foodie, and lifelong corporate communications geek, Cathy Burnham Martin has enjoyed a highly eclectic career, ranging from the arts and journalism to finance, telecommunications, and publishing. Along with her husband, Ron Martin, she has passions for entertaining, gardening, volunteering, active and visual arts, GREAT food, and traveling. Cathy often says, "I believe that we all should live with as much contagious enthusiasm as possible... Whether we're with friends or family, taking people along for the ride is more than half the fun."
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