Want a light, healthy soup full of savory broth, fresh veggies and seafood? Want to spend next week’s paycheck for one meal? It’s easy to get carried away shopping for the delicious fresh ingredients in this French soup. But you can definitely make this restaurant-quality bouillabaisse on a budget if you shop carefully. Or, if you want to splurge, shop with abandon. It works either way.
Classic bouillabaisse requires you to make your own fish stock from stuff like fish heads etc., but this blog is about EZ! That said, while as bouillabaisse goes this is a pretty easy recipe, I usually try to offer recipes that can be made without expensive kitchen appliances like food processors, but here I suggest using both a food processor and a hand-held blender. You could probably get the job done with a regular blender but I’m not sure it would turn out as well, so I’m going to suggest you use the tools listed.
This recipe started life on Epicurious; with my changes/improvements it is awesome! The base is made with clam juice, usually an easy ingredient to find in any grocery store. But if it’s available to you, you might want to use fish or seafood stock from a store like Whole Foods as your soup base.
If you are proficient at cooking different kinds of seafood, there is really no limit to the kinds of seafood you can throw into bouillabaisse – lobster, sea bass, calamari, shrimp. The thing is, different seafood textures need to cook for different lengths of time, so you have to know when to add each type of seafood, and how long to cook each one, so that it is all completely cooked through when your dish is done, but none of it is overcooked or rubbery. If you don’t have a lot of experience cooking fish in a soup, try just following this recipe with the same ingredients listed here, since I give you the timing and order specific to these fish.
For this recipe I used tilapia, mussels, and bay scallops. (You will see from the pictures that I also tried cherrystone clams, but as only a third of the clams opened I am not recommending those until I figure out how to cook them!). You could substitute catfish or haddock for the tilapia. The three seafood types I use here are good choices because they are not crazy expensive as fish go, and you can usually find all three in the frozen foods section of your grocery store. Buying frozen seafood is much less expensive than fresh, and in this soup I think it tastes great.
This soup has an interesting addition at the bottom of each bowl: A piece of toasted bread spread with a cayenne rouille, a thick, spicy paste that slowly flavors your soup as you eat. Scoop up a piece of fish with your spoon and plunge it down to the bottom of your bowl to scrape up some rouille, or scoop up a piece of the rouille/bread with the broth. The flavor is awesome! And it is not too spicy.
Another ingredient that makes this soup SO GOOD (and gives it its beautiful rosy color) is saffron. However … .03 of an ounce (1 gram) of saffron cost me $33!!!!! So definitely that is an optional ingredient if you’re not up for spending $33 for a one-time use in soup (I could have used half of it, but I splurged and dumped the whole gram in there! So yummy!).
If you buy frozen seafood, defrost the night before according to package directions. If you buy fresh seafood: Buy it either the day of or the day before you plan to make the bouillabaisse. When you get home: Take the mussels out of the plastic bag the store/fish seller put them in. Throw away any mussels with an open shell (they are dead and not a good idea to eat). If you are not going to make the soup right away: Place the closed mussels in an open container. Lay a dampened towel or paper towel over them and place them in the fridge. Do NOT cover the container with a lid, plastic wrap, or anything else (they’re still alive and need to breathe!).
Ok WOW now that’s all over with you can finally make the bouillabaisse! So delicious, it really is worth the prework. To me, anyway 🙂
INGREDIENTS (makes 4 to 6 servings)
3/4 cup stale French, wheat, or sourdough bread, crust removed, cubed
3 tblsp water
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 small fennel bulb, cored and bulb thinly sliced, fronds chopped
1 cup fume blanc or any crisp white wine
1 large pinch saffron (about half a gram) (optional)
2 tablespoons orange juice (optional)
1 strip orange zest
1 (14-ounce) can diced peeled tomatoes, in juice
4 cups (32 oz.) clam juice or seafood stock
1 cup vegetable stock
1 lb Tilapia fillets, about 4
1/2 lb Bay scallops
1 lb mussels, about 24 mussels
Italian parsley, chopped
6 slices of a French, wheat, or sourdough baguette
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1. Make the rouille: Place dry cubed bread, garlic, cayenne and salt in a food processor. Sprinkle with water and pulse until combined into a paste.
2. To food processor add olive oil, 1 tblsp at a time, and pulse until all ingredients are well combined and thick. Set aside.
3. Make the bouillabase: Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sliced fennel bulb and garlic, and sauté until beginning to soften and brown, 5 to 10 minutes. If you are using saffron: While the veggies cook, in a small bowl, soak the saffron in the orange juice.
4. Add the wine to the veggies in the pot and simmer about 5 minutes, or until wine is reduced by about a third.
5. To simmering pot add: Saffron in orange juice (if using), orange zest, tomatoes with juice, vegetable stock and seafood stock/clam juice.
6. Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is reduced by about half, about 15-20 minutes.
7. While broth boils, Prepare the seafood: Using a paper towel, pat tilapia and scallops dry and season with salt and pepper. Cut tilapia into 1 1/2” strips. Rinse the mussels of any sand/grit and remove any “beards” that still cling to them. Discard any open shells.
8. While broth boils, Make the toast: brown 6 baguette slices in the broiler on both sides. Remove from broiler and when cool, rub one side of each piece of toast with a peeled garlic clove. Using a pastry brush, brush same side with olive oil. Set aside.
9. When broth is reduced: Using a hand blender, pulse the broth to break it down into a rough purée (some vegetable pieces floating about are ok). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
10. Reduce heat under pot to medium. Add mussels, and cover. Simmer until the shells just begin to open, about 5 minutes.
11. Add tilapia to simmering stew. Cover and cook about 3 minutes, or until tilapia looks firm, and then add the scallops; cover and cook an additional minute; turn off heat. (Tilapia should flake easily and all shells should be open when scallops are done; if needed, allow more time for fish/shellfish to simmer and remove scallops so they do not over cook).
12. Place a piece of toasted bread, topped with a dollop of rouille, in the bottom of each large soup bowl.
Ladle bouillabase over bread and sprinkle with parsley and chopped fennel fronds.