This is the ultimate fisherman’s stew, served with a great rouille, crusty bread, a green salad, and fresh fruit. It is just the perfect festive meal. We like to round it out with a rough red wine: Chianti, Zinfandel, or a Cotes du Rhone.
Despite the fuss among purists regarding the making of this great fish soup, the truth is that along the riviera it is the most common and casually assembled of meals, incorporating whatever the fishing fleet may have brought in. There are as many bad bouillabaisses as there are bad cooks; inversely, the good ones are very good indeed.
You will hear that it is impossible to make bouillabaisse in this country since many of the authentic fish are unavailable. This has frightened away cooks who might otherwise have tried the dish, and it is a false claim. With the exception of the rascasse (or rockfish), which seems to be the main point of contention, all commonly used bouillabaisse fish are available here. Often they are called by another name, but if the fishermen feel free to improvise, so can we, and authenticity at the expense of good taste is to be avoided.
A good variety of seafood is also important, and you must really make bouillabaisse for a crowd for it to be worthwhile. Shellfish are not always included in france, but we like them and think they make the dish look more colorful. Prepare the fish stock a day ahead and shop for and dress your fish the morning of the day you plan to serve the bouillabaisse. The actual cooking time is quite short, and you can easily complete the stew after your guests arrive. In fact, this is the kind of dish you can make while guests watch or even assist. Remember, this is a working man’s dish, earthy and messy to eat; don’t elevate it into something so exalted you never enjoy its simple pleasure.
Sometimes the simplest garnish is the best. A crisp crouton, made of good-quality bread and well toasted or sauteéd, can make or break a soup (or salad).
Cut the bread into ½-inch cubes and spread it on a baking sheet. Toast it in a 400°F oven, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
Or, melt butter in a large skillet. Sauté a bit of garlic in the butter first if appropriate, add the bread cubes, and sauté over medium heat, stirring and tossing the cubes until golden brown. Transfer the croutons to paper towels and drain before using.
8 to 10 portions
Total Timeunder 2 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturejuicy, savory, spiced, umami
Type of Dishfish soup, soup
- ½ cup fruity, dark green olive oil
- 1½ cups well rinsed coarsely chopped leeks
- 1 cup finely chopped yellow onions
- 2 cups canned concentrated tomato purée
- 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- ½ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 4 cups Fish Stock
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons whole saffron
- 2 quarts fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 48 Cherrystone clams, scrubbed
- 3 pounds skinless firm white fish steaks, such as bass, snapper, and cod, cut into large cubes
- 36 raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 4 lobster tails, fresh or defrosted (1 pound each), shelled and halved crosswise
- Garlic croutons (see Notes), for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and onions and cook, covered, until the vegetables are tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomato puree, tomatoes, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, wine, fish stock, and salt and pepper. Simmer to blend the flavors, 20 minutes. (The soup can be prepared several hours ahead to this point. Return to a simmer before proceeding.)
Blend the butter and flour together in a bowl and then whisk the mixture into the tomato mixture.
Add the saffron and the mussels and clams in their shells and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fish, shrimp, and lobster tails and simmer until all the shellfish are opened and the fish is done, another 5 minutes. Do not overcook.
Ladle into hot soup plates, discarding any mussels or clams that have not opened. Garnish with the garlic croutons, and serve immediately.
1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 2007 Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins