A deliciously simple French fish soup with a fragrant broth and perfectly cooked fish and seafood. This classic bouillabaisse recipe is both true comfort food and a culinary classic.
The secret of what makes this dish so good lies in its simplicity. Fresh fish and seafood, aromatic broth and basic vegetables combine to create a delicious pairing of flavours that are both rustic and refined.
Serve with a classic rouille and lots of French bread for mopping up the delicious broth. Follow Chef Shane's tips to perfecting this dish.
Soupe de poisson, a Provencal French fish stew originating from the city of Marseille.
A simple French fish soup made famous by American chef and food writer Julia Childs, in her booking 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'
But regardless of its fame and culinary status, this fish and seafood bouillabaisse soup remains just that, a deliciously, comforting perfect soup to serve with bread and enjoy with friends.
Love fish and seafood recipes then be sure to take a look at our full recipe collection.
What is Bouillabaisse?
This traditional French seafood stew was originally a rustic poor man's dinner. The fisherman would take home leftover fish at the end of the day and using the abundance of fennel, oranges and tomatoes in the region, this traditional dish was created.
The addition of the spice trades arriving through Europe only enhanced the flavours with the addition of saffron, star anise, fennel seed and chilli.
Often eaten in two courses with the fish and seafood being the start to the meal, finished by the amazingly flavoured soup with some crusty bread.
For the Provencal soup base:
- Olive oil
- Whole prawns - peeled/ cleaned. (Keep the prawn / shrimp shells and heads to create a flavorful broth)
- Fennel bulb
- Bay leaves
- Parsley - fresh leaves and stalks separated.
- Dried thyme
- Red chilli
- Orange peel - similar to using orange zest aim to the orange skin only and not the white pith which can have a bitter taste.
- Star anise
- Saffron threads
- Tomato purée (or tomato paste)
- Fresh tomatoes
- White wine
- Chicken stock
Fresh seafood and fish ingredients:
Traditionally, a bouillabaisse recipe uses three different types of Mediterranean fish, either whole small fish or chopped into chunks. We like to add a variety of fresh fish and seafood depending on what's available locally.
For this recipe we used:
- Fresh white fish fillets
- Prawn tails (leftover from base ingredients)
This recipe is flexible, so use whatever varieties of fish and seafood, that are sustainable in your region.
Variations of ingredients
Originally this French fish soup was about using up leftover fish and seafood from the daily catch. So get creative and use whatever combination of fish and seafood are available to you.
You could also use:
- Seafood - try octopus, crabs, squid, cuttlefish or different shellfish like razor clams, diamond clams, tua tua.
- For fish - john dory, red mullet, red snapper, sea bass, hake, grouper, monkfish, gurnard, halibut and haddock all work well.
Fish and seafood preparation
Tips for selecting fresh fish and seafood.
Whatever fish and seafood you choose to use, just make sure it is fresh.
Tips on choosing fresh fish and seafood:
- Mussels or shellfish - heavy in weight, clean, smelling of the sea, unopened or when tapped they close.
- Fish - dark red gills, clear eyes, doesn't have a strong fish smell, firm flesh.
- Prawns - smell fresh, make sure the heads are not black.
When choosing fish and seafood trust your instinct and if it smells a bit too fishy don't buy it.
How to prepare fish and seafood.
To prepare the fish - If you are using whole small fish, make sure they are gutted, remove the scales, trim off any fins and rinse under cold water. You can also ask your local fishmonger to prepare this for you. If using larger fish or fillets, remove any fish bones and cut into good size chunks.
To prepare the seafood -
- To prepare the prawns, twist off the heads, and peel off the remaining shell. Then remove the poop tube, using a sharp knife, run it down the back of the prawn and scrape out the dark vein.
- For the mussels give them a good scrub with steel wool and pull of the beard. If any shells are broken or cracked don't use them.
- When preparing the clams make sure you purged them in cold fresh water, so they spit out the sand. Your fishmonger may have already done this for you, if not soak them overnight, in lightly salted water.
Step by step instructions.
To make the homemade fish stock
- First prep all the soup base ingredients.
- Then in a large pot on medium heat cook the prawn shells until well browned then add the onions, fennel, leek and garlic, and cook until soft.
- Add all the herbs and spice ingredients allowing to cook for a few minutes. Then add the tomatoes and paste. Pour in the wine and allow that to reduce before adding the chicken stock.
- Bring to the boil then simmer, for around 35 minutes allowing the flavours to develop and ingredients to soften.
Blend the broth
- To create a rich flavoursome base, cool the broth slightly then using a food processor blend ALL the base ingredients.
- Pour through a fine sieve, depending on your sieve you may need to do this step again to make sure all bits of shell and other pieces have been removed.
- Like we mentioned before, we blend all the ingredients to create a rich and decedent base, trust us it's well worth it. If you are making ahead you can store the base sealed in the fridge, until ready to cook the fish and seafood.
Cook the fish and seafood
- Gently reheat the blended soup base and add your choice of fish and seafood. For perfectly cooked fish and seafood, timing is everything. Take care to place the ingredients into the broth in order of cook time.
Cooking tips - You can prepare part of this dish ahead by working through to the end of step two. The blended soup base can then be stored covered in the fridge, until you are ready to cook the fish and seafood. The base can be made in the morning or even the day before, a great option for serving at dinner parties.
Professional chef tips
- To create a rich and decedent broth - To create a beautifully flavoured base for your French fish soup, after cooking the fish and seafood stock I recommend blending together all the ingredients, even the seafood shells, and spice. Then pass the broth through a fine sieve. Blending the ingredients creates more body, flavour, nutrition and an overall more decadent feel to the soup.
- To prepare ahead - The broth for this recipe can be prepared ahead and stored covered in an airtight container in the fright overnight. This will further develop the flavours of the soup, yum! Once ready to serve simply reheat the broth and cook your fish and seafood to perfection.
Honestly, this delicious French fish and seafood stew really shouldn't be served without some fresh crusty bread.
We also highly recommend serving with this bouillabaisse recipe with a traditional rouille. Try dipping the bread from the rouille into the soup base... heaven!!!
How to make a rouille
Optional but traditional and amazing! Rouille is a classic garlicky mayonnaise type sauce to serve with bouillabaisse (or any fish and seafood soup), creating another layer of flavour.
Our garlic saffron rouille uses egg, egg yolk, dijon mustard, garlic, saffron, chilli, olive oil, lemon juice and salt (season to taste).
- Using a bench top blender, simple add all the ingredients except the olive oil.
- Slowly blend and drizzle in the olive oil, through the hole in your blender lid. The rouille will start to thicken, continue until you have the desired mayonnaise consistency.
- Place in a sealed jar in the fridge, until ready to serve.
A classic French fish soup with seafood that is both rich and simple. This dish is elegant for a dinner party or can simply be enjoyed with loved ones, either way, our easy bouillabaisse recipe is sure to be a favourite.
So what are you waiting for? Head to your local market and let's get cooking!
French fish soup - Bouillabaisse recipe
Bouillabaisse Soup Base
- 50 ml Olive oil
- 10 ea Whole prawns peeled, deveined, keep the heads and shells
- 1 medium Onion fine sliced
- 1 Fennel bulb fine sliced, keep the fronds
- 1 Leek white part only, fine sliced
- 6 cloves Garlic chopped
- 2 ea Bay leaves
- 1 bunch Parsley rough chopped leaves, stalks kept whole
- ½ teaspoon Dried thyme
- 1 ea Red chilli Seeds removed, chopped
- 2 strips Orange peel
- 2 ea Star anise
- 1 pinch Saffron
- 2 tablespoon Tomato puree
- 2 ea Ripe tomatoes
- 100 ml White wine
- 2 ltr Chicken stock
Fish and seafood (see note 1)
- 300 g Fresh fish fillets cut into chunks
- 15 ea Fresh mussels cleaned, debearded
- 10 ea Prawn tails From soup base recipe
- 24 ea Clams purged in fresh water
Garlic Saffron Rouille (Optional)
- 1 Egg
- 1 Egg yolk
- 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 1 pinch Saffron
- 1 Red chilli
- 150 ml Olive oil
- salt to taste
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- 1 French stick or any fresh crusty bread
To the soup base
- Prep all the base ingredients.
- Grab a large pot and put on a medium heat. Add the oil allow to warm a little then add the prawn shells. Cook the shells until well browned then add the sliced onion, fennel, leek and garlic, cook until softened but not brown.
- Add the bay leaves, thyme, red chilli, orange peel, star anise, saffron, parsley stalks, continue to cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and fry for a couple of minutes.
- Add the white wine and allow to reduce away then add the chicken stock.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 35 minutes until all the vegetables are nice and soft. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
Preparing your Rouille
- While your soup is simmering away its a good time to make your rouille. Grab your bench top blended, add the egg, egg yolk, mustard, chilli, garlic, saffron, pinch of salt and lemon juice, place on the lid and turn on to start blending. Slowly add the olive oil at a drizzle speed through the hole in the lid, your rouille should start to thicken as you add the oil. You want to create a mayonnaise consistency. Place in a sealed jar in the fridge, until ready to serve.
Blend the base and cook the fish and seafood:
- Using a good bench top blender, ladle the base a bit at a time (yes all the ingredients ) and blend until smooth, repeat the process until all the soup is blended. (See note 2)
- Pour the soup through a sieve, then place into a large clean pot.
- Heat the blended soup base and add the seafood, start with the fish and prawns then add the shellfish on top of this. Simmer for around 5 minutes until the shells have popped open and the fish and prawns are cooked.
- Taste and season, if requided.
- Add the chopped parsley and serve with the rouille and crusty bread. Enjoy!