Marseille Bouillabaisse a Provencal Classic

What is your favourite fish soup?

Residents of Marseille are adamant that French fishermen eked basic sustenance from their unsightly leftover fish bits concocted this fish broth/soup/stew on the shores of the now sprawling metropolis. The name for this dish is derived from two actions bouillir (to boil) and abaisser (to reduce or simmer). However, in the intense world of “Iron-chef” gastronomy the origins of bouillabaisse are up for debate.

Fishing in MarseilleOver the years, the shores of Marseille have adapted to the ebb and flow of coastal waters. Human settlement in the area has been traced to the Palaeolithic era some 30,000 years ago. When Greeks from Phocaea inhabited Massalia the city now known as Marseille, in 600 BC, they may have eaten a fish stew called kakavia. The Romans followed, the sheltered anchorage and abundance of natural products such as olives, almonds, grapes and fish allowed Massilia to maintain a prominent role in the trade routes of that era.

Place des Augustins

Over the centuries, the second largest city in France (after Paris) has had to compensate for population growth, multicultural immigration, financial hurdles and high unemployment. This port city remains a gateway of goods and people into France, much as it was in Greek and Roman times.


Bouillabaisse resembles fish soup from other countries, yet this Marseille broth created with spiny Mediterranean rockfish and wild herbs harvested in the craggy hills of Provence, is a cauldron of flavours that just may be representative of this multifaceted city.

Small crabs

La Bouillabaisse a Provencal Classic
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: French
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10-12
This recipe comes from the kitchen of Ghyslaine Martin-Castellino in Salon de Provence and was recently published in City Palate Magazine (Calgary). Do not let the number of steps scare you off there are only three parts to the recipe, preparing the broth, cooking the fish and creating the rouille. You may not have a ready supply of Mediterranean fish available these work well as substitutes: (for the broth): pacific rock cod or fish parts heads, bones from rock cod, halibut, salmon (for the main course fish): halibut, basa, rock cod, red snapper, mussels, scallops, Alaskan crab, clams and shrimp.

  • For the Fish Course:
  • 2 Baguettes
  • 1 lb. Assorted crustaceans (small crabs, shrimp, clams), in their shells
  • 8-10 Potatoes (Russet or similar variety)
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Onions, chopped
  • 6 Garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons Parsley, chopped
  • 1-12oz Can Diced Tomatoes
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • 6-10 Fennel stems, the upper part of a bulb
  • 2-3 Teaspoons Chile pepper flakes
  • 4 Teaspoons Tomato Paste
  • 6-7 lb. Assorted saltwater fish -- aim for at least 2-3 whole fish (scaled and cleaned) and a few fillets
  • 2 Teaspoons Saffron threads
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • For the Soup Broth:
  • 4.5 lb. Rockfish, small and whole
  • 1 Potato (Russet or similar variety)
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion, chopped
  • 1 Garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon Parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
  • 3 Fennel stems, the upper part of a bulb
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 13 Cups Water
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • For la Rouille:
  • 1 Egg yolk
  • 1 Teaspoon Chile pepper flakes
  • ½ Potato, cooked and reserved from the broth
  • 2 Cups Olive or Grapeseed Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Soup Broth (above)
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

  1. To prepare the fish:
  2. Cut the baguette into 1 cm. rounds and place on a baking sheet.
  3. Lightly grill both sides under the broiler.
  4. Put the toasts in a serving dish and reserve.
  5. Clean the crustaceans, but do not remove the shells.
  6. Peel and chop the potatoes into 2cm. rounds, cover with cold water and reserve.
  7. In a large stockpot, heat 4 T. of olive oil on medium and add the chopped onion.
  8. Allow the onion to soften slightly then add the crushed garlic, chopped parsley, canned tomatoes, bay leaves, fennel stems and assorted crustaceans.
  9. Stir to allow the crustaceans to turn pink in colour.
  10. Generously add salt and pepper.
  11. Add 2-3 teaspoons chile pepper flakes and 4 tsp. of tomato paste.
  12. Allow the ingredients to cook for a few minutes then remove from the heat.
  13. Strain and discard the water from the potatoes.
  14. Place the potato rounds in a layer on top of the crustaceans and spices.
  15. One at a time place each of the whole fish and fillets on top of the potatoes according to thickness and the time required for cooking.
  16. The quickest fish to cook should be placed near the top.
  17. Sprinkle the ingredients with saffron.
  18. Cover the pot and put aside while you prepare the broth.
  19. To prepare the soup broth:
  20. Rinse the small rockfish.
  21. Peel the potato and cut in half.
  22. In a large stockpot, heat 4 Tbsp. of olive oil on medium and add the chopped onion
  23. Allow the onion to soften slightly and add the crushed garlic, chopped parsley and rockfish.
  24. Stir until the fish begin to cook, add 1 Tbsp. of tomato paste, 1 cup water, fennel stems and bay leaf.
  25. Once the fish start to soften and fall apart, add 12 cups of water and the potato.
  26. Generously salt the broth and bring to a boil.
  27. Cook on medium for about 20 minutes.
  28. Retrieve the potato and reserve it for la rouille.
  29. Using a metal strainer with small openings, strain the broth into a large bowl
  30. One batch at a time spoon fish bits and spices into the strainer, and crush to squeeze out the liquid and capture the intense flavours for the broth.
  31. The remains can be discarded.
  32. To prepare la Rouille:
  33. Put the egg yolk in a bowl, with the teaspoon of chile pepper flakes, ½ of the reserved cooked potato and some salt.
  34. Crush the potato and mix well with the egg until relatively smooth.
  35. Whisk in the 2 cups of oil slowly adding as you stir vigorously (in one direction) until you create a mayonnaise consistency.
  36. Add 2 Tbsp. of the soup broth and stir until mixed and put into a serving dish.
  37. The final preparation of the fish:
  38. minutes before you are ready to eat pour the strained broth over the fish that were set aside earlier.
  39. On high heat bring the broth to a full boil (bouio) for 10-12 minutes.
  40. Lower the heat (abaisso) and cook for about 5-7 minutes longer.
  41. Typical Presentation:
  42. On a large serving platter, arrange the fish and crustaceans.
  43. Serve the broth in a soup terrine.
  44. Put the potato rounds in a separate dish.
  45. Your guests can enjoy the meal as they please: broth and croutons with rouille, broth and potatoes, broth and fish or everything at once.


Bouillabaisse Base

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