Aromatic Fish Soup

Updated February 23, 2016

Fish soup is as much a part of life in the fish-rich Mediterranean as fishing itself. Every country has its own version, but the French claim the honor of the “state of the art,” with their justly famous bouillabaisse. It is impossible for us to recreate any of the originals accurately, because we simply don’t have the appropriate fish. But by using the right combination of aromatic vegetables, herbs and garlic — and by adding from our own available fish and seafood — we have come up with this delicious and utterly accessible version of a meal-size fish soup.

Fresh salmon heads are available cheaply at all fishmongers.




Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free



Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, savory, spiced

Type of Dishfish soup, soup


  • ¼ cup (50 mL) olive oil 
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) salt 
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 cups (500 mL) roughly chopped onions 
  • 4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces 
  • ½ tsp (2 mL)  fennel seeds 
  • 2 lbs (1 kg) plum tomatoes, diced or 1 can (28 oz [796 mL]) plum tomatoes 
  • 10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) dried basil 
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) dried oregano 
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) water 
  • Few sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 ½ lbs (1.25 kg) fish heads (about 2 salmon heads, see Notes) 
  • 2 cups (500 mL) peeled cubed potatoes 
  • 1 ½ lbs (750 g) skinless boneless fillet of salmon, cod, halibut (or combination) cut into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes 
  • 8 oz (250 g) medium shrimp (optional), shelled and deveined 
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 large thick slices French bread, toasted 
  • Few chervil or celery leaves, chopped


  1. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine olive oil, salt and pepper. Add onions, celery and fennel seeds. Sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Immediately add tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves, oregano and basil; cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes or until sauce-like.

  2. Stir in water; bring to boil. Add parsley and fish heads. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook for 35 to 40 minutes on a steady bubbling (but not rolling) boil, stirring infrequently.

  3. Take off heat. Cover and let cool 1 to 2 hours to develop flavors. Strain, pushing down on ingredients and mashed down pulp to extract all the broth. Discard leftovers from strainer. (Recipe can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance; cover and refrigerate broth.)

  4. Bring the strained broth to a boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat to medium-high and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until soft and pierceable. Add fish and shrimp (if using); reduce heat to medium and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until the fish is tender but not overcooked. Stir in lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  5. Place a toasted slice of bread into each of 4 bowls. Top each with one-quarter of the soup, making sure that potatoes and fish are distributed evenly. Garnish generously with chopped chervil and serve immediately.



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Yes this soup was delicious! With a beautiful colour, truly aromatic smell and fantastic as a main meal with a rustic loaf it is worth the time taken to prepare and cook. An easy to follow recipe for a dish which family, friends and guests will enjoy. The only problem is that I have to cook it again this weekend!

In the process of preparing this recipe now. So far so good, nice and easy to understand instructions. Smells great.The colour is superb. Will let you know what it tastes like in a few hours time!


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