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Bouillabaisse: Perfect Fish Soup

Is Saturday Night the evening you make sure your food is yummy, different and nothing like what you’ve been eating during the week? I sure am one of those! Sure, restaurants are nice when you want to have a nice evening and some good food, but sometimes going out is just not an option. So staying in needs to be just as fun as if you were going out… or close to it! It’s also interesting to see that people usually take out their cooking books on Saturday, looking for something that will make their taste buds go wild in the evening, regardless of who’s going to be around the table. That’s how I do it anyways!

For a little while now I’ve been wanting to make a Bouillabaisse, a nice warm Provençal seafood soup aromatized with the subtle taste of saffron. I’ve never made Bouillabaisse before but I’ve had it in restaurants and I always love it. There’s something comforting about hot soup as a meal, so what better time than winter to try this one out? Add to it crispy bread croutons with rouillespread and your taste buds are bound to be happy tonight.

If you’re going to make Bouillabaisse, don’t get intimidated by all the ingredients on the list. It’s really not that hard to make, it just looks complicated. If you make your own fish broth (fumet de poisson), you’re going to be really proud of the end result. But there’s no shame on buying premade broth. If you do so, it will save you about 1 hour’s worth of work. Also, be aware that Bouillabaisse is all about the saffron. Aromatic, delicate and never one to take over, saffron is a very sophisticated, delicate and sexy spice. It needs to be the predominant flavor to your soup without being overpowering. A big pinch should be quite enough for this recipe. Finally, making your soup will take you nothing more than 15-20 minutes. Since this dish needs to be served just when it’s ready, you can prepare all the ingredients in advance and start making the soup 15 minutes before you want to sit at the table. That way you’re sure nothing is overcooked.

So if you’re ready for Saturday Night Cooking Fever, here’s one perfect for tonight!


Makes 6 servings - Level: CHEF


INGREDIENTS for the Fumet de poisson

  • 6 cups water

  • 2 pounds fish backbone and head or sole backbones (ideally)

  • 2 onions, chopped

  • 2 sprigs parsley

  • 2 tbsp mushroom peels or mushrooms

  • Juices of ½ lemon

  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs

  • 3 fresh savory sprigs

  • 1 tsp salt


  • 1 lb tilapia or sole fillets, diced

  • ½ lb small raw shrimps, peeled

  • ½ lb small scallops

  • 1 fresh live lobster, cut in pieces or crab (optional)

  • 6 cups fish stock (fumet de poisson)

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

  • 1 medium-sized leek, white part only, halved lengthwise and finely chopped

  • 2 cups potatoes, peeled and finely diced

  • 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

  • ½ cup olive oil

  • 1 tbsp grated garlic

  • 2-3 sprigs thyme

  • 2-3 sprigs savory

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, slightly chopped

  • 1 pinch saffron threads

  • Salt & pepper

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter

  • ¼ cup flat parsley, coarsely chopped


  • 1 french baguette, thinly sliced

  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half

  • 1 tsp lemon juice

  • 1 pinch saffron threads

  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 2 egg yolks

  • ¼ tsp salt

  • 1 pinch cayenne

  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp olive oil


  1. In a deep pot, put the fish or the sole backbones into cold water. Bring to a boil. After the water starts to boil, add the onions, parsley, mushrooms, lemon juice and salt.

  2. Boil for 30 to 45 minutes. Strain in a large bowl through a chinois, only keeping the broth. Keep cold (you can freeze if you want to make this in advance).


  1. In a large saucepan, place the onion, the leek and the garlic with 2 tbsp olive oil. Heat slowly, stirring frequently, until they are well softened but not brown. Pour the fumet de poisson and add the potatoes, the tomatoes and the live lobster pieces (optinal). Add the thyme, savory, fennel seeds, saffron, a large pinch of salt and some pepper. Sprinkle the butter and the rest of the olive oil on top. Bring to a boil, cover and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 5-8 minutes).

  2. Add the tilapia or sole, shrimps, and the scallops. Cook on high heat for another 5 minutes. As it boils, the fish stock, the oil and the butter will thicken to the consistency of a creamed soup. Add the parsley.

  3. If you want, you can drain the fish carefully, and arrange the pieces on a serving platter. If not, you can pour the boiling soup with the seafood in serving bowls and top with the bread croutons and rouille.


  1. Preheat the oven at broil.

  2. In a bowl, combine the lemon juice and the saffron. In a small food processor, purée the garlic, egg yolks, saffron-infused juice, salt and cayenne pepper. While processing, slowly drizzle in half the olive oil, and then add the remaining oil. Therouilleshould have the texture of a thick mayonnaise. Adjust seasoning. Refrigerate.

  3. Take the slices of bread that have been rubbed with garlic, sprinkle them with a few drops of olive oil and broil in the oven until brown and crispy (about 3 minutes).

Notes: Some people add shellfish to their Bouillabaisse such as mussel or clams. According to great French Chefs, we shouldn’t do this because the taste of mussels would be too strong, and the shells often leave sand at the bottom.

As I’m allergic to lobster, I replaced it with cooked snow crab claws, which I added to the soup at the last minute.

It is essential to serve this soup as soon as it is cooked. If it’s forced to wait, the natural thickening that forms the charm of this dish will rapidly disappear.

This recipe is best if you make your own fish stock. But, if you don’t have time to make it yourself, you can buy it premade at your fish market.

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