Chesapeake Bay Seafood Stew

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

During the eighteenth century, French cuisine was the order of the day in Annapolis, Maryland, which then was considered the cosmopolitan city. Gourmets from all over the new republic made their way to this colonial city to sample the tastes of French fare, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Jefferson, a devotee of fine cuisine, insisted that all his chefs at his Monticello estate be trained in French cookery in Annapolis. This version of a Chesapeake Bay bouillabaisse, teeming with fresh clams and crabmeat in a saffron-scented tomato broth, is a dish typical of Annapolis. The Rouille, a classic French accompaniment to fish stew, is mayonnaise-like in texture and made from chilies, garlic, and olive oil. Pass around plenty of hot, crusty bread for dipping in the broth.

Serves8 to 10

Cooking Methodsauteeing, stewing


Total Timeunder 2 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Equipmentblender, food processor

Five Ingredients or LessYes



Taste and Textureherby, savory, winey

Type of Dishfish soup


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 leeks, well washed, halved, and cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup chopped fennel bulb, or 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 5 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups Fish Stock  1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 or 4 threads of saffron
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 8 to 10 pieces of French bread, sliced on the diagonal
  • Melted butter and chopped garlic, for toast
  • 2 pounds bass, rockfish, bluefish, or other firm-fleshed fillets
  • 1 pound backfin crabmeat, picked over
  • 1½ pounds small hard-shell clams, well scrubbed
  • Rouille
  • Chopped parsley


  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot and sauté the onion, garlic, leeks, and fennel until slightly softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, wine, stock, thyme, oregano, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.

  2. Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor. Pour through a fine sieve and return to the pot. Add the orange zest, saffron, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until somewhat reduced, about 20 to 30 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.

  4. Brush the bread slices with melted butter and top with garlic. Toast in the oven until browned.

  5. Cut the fish in chunks about 2 inches square. Add to the sauce and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the fish is almost done.

  6. Add the crabmeat and clams. Stir, then cover. Cook until the clams have opened. Reserve 1 cup of the liquid for making Rouille.

  7. Prepare the Rouille. Place 1 piece of garlic bread in each bowl, then spoon in the fish and broth. Arrange the clams on top. Garnish with parsley. Serve the Rouille on the side.



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