Bouillabaise Provencal

In the realm of incredible summer dishes, and outside the world of grilling and bbq, bouillabaisee is one of my

favorites.  Hands down, it’s just great food.  It’s a celebration of the sea, of summer, and of flavor.  What is bouillabaise?  For those of you who might be curious or asking the question, let me give you some background.

Bouillabaise is a Provencal French seafood stew.  After that, it can be a very diverse dish.  Traditionally, it’s composed of fennel, onion, leek, assorted Mediterranean fish and shellfish, and a saffron tomato fish broth.  It’s served with rouille on grilled French bread.  Rouille is similar to aioli with the addition of red pepper, saffron and usually cayenne pepper.  Various herbs can be added, sausages can be added, and additional seafood (like lobster, sea urchin roe, eel) can be added, depending on what happens to be available and how complicated the cook wants to make the stew.

Similar to many French provencal dishes, this dish is exquisite.  Bold, yet delicate flavors combined perfectly.  When you have a craving for something along these lines, it’s usually better, in my opinion, to go to a good French restaurant and get it there.  It’s easier.  The actual production of bouillabaise can be time consuming and expensive.  It’s a three step process involving a broth, the rouille and the stew itself.  And, you cannot take shortcuts.  My version is probably going to look similar to most versions you will find.  But for feeding the masses, for upscale summer get-togethers, or just for the love of great food, this is perfect.  Or, if you just feel like it.  I’ve made this at home before, and to be honest, I loved every minute of the production, not to mention the results.  It’s not a difficult dish by any means.   If you love to cook, love fresh seafood, love Provencal cuisine, and love to take an assortment of raw ingredients and combine them into something magical, this is the dish for you!  I hope to like it as much as I do.

Provencal Bouillabase

Prep time: 45 min
Cook time:  1 hour
Yield:  4-6 portions


For the broth:

1 lb fish bones or 1 lb shrimp or lobster shells
2 medium yellow onion, rough chop
2 ribs celery, rough chop
1 carrot, rough chop
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
1 bulb fennel, rough chop
vegetable oil

For the Rouille:

1 egg yolk
1 tsp dijon mustard
tiny pinch saffron
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 rst red pepper (canned is fine)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
kosher salt
1 tsp honey
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
a few pieces good french bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces

For the Bouillabaise:

1 yellow onion, juilenne cut
1 bulb fennel, juilienne cut
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 smoked andouille sausage, or excellent quality smoked french garlic sausage, cut into 1/2 in pieces
1 rib celery, small dice
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup orange juice
1 pinch saffron
1 cup crushed san marzano tomatoes
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb little neck clams, scrubbed
1/2 lb black mussels, scrubbed
Assorted small Mediterranean fish, like branzino, monk fish, squid or whiting
1/2 bunch parsley, fine chop
excellent quality french bread, sliced
kosher salt
ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil


For the broth:

In a heavy bottom medium sized stock pot, begin heating a couple tbsp of vegetable oil.  Add all the vegetables and cook until translucent and fragrant.  Add the tomato paste and stir until everything is evenly coated.  Add the white wine and deglaze the pot.  Add everything else and bring to a boil.  Add enough water to just cover and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 30 minutes and strain.  Reserve.

For the rouille:

Place all items in a blender, season liberally with salt and pepper.  Run the machine and slowly drizzle the oil until thick.  It should roughly have the consistency of mayonnaise.  Reserve.

For the bouillabaise:

In a heavy bottom large straight side saute pan, begin cooking the sausage, onion, celery and fennel in a little of the oil.  Cook until translucent and highly fragrant.  Add the garlic and cook until you can smell the garlic.  Add the white wine and orange juice and bring to a simmer.  Let reduce slightly.  Add the saffron and tomatoes.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add enough broth to cover everything, but just barely.  Bring to a low simmer.  Add all the shellfish and fish.  Cook until shellfish is opened and the fish is cooked, about 10 minutes (if any shellfish does not open, make sure to discard).  While you are waiting for the fish to cook, drizzle a little olive oil on the bread and grill until lightly charred.  Taste the bouillabaise and reseason if necessary.  Add the parsley at the end.

To serve:

Ladle the stew into warm bowls.  Serve with the toasted bread and rouille on the side.  Best method is to dip the bread into the rouille, and then into the stew.

Best served with chilled white wine such as pinot grigio or a crisp chardonnay, such as paul dolan.

Feel free to garnish with fresh snipped chives or a few sweet basil leaves.


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