Bouillabaisse Recipe for Seafood Lovers

Seafood bouillabaisse is a French stew where fish and shellfish are simmered with earthy root vegetables for a deeply flavorful seafood stew unlike any other. Distinctive flavors that set French bouillabaisse apart from other seafood soups are fennel, saffron, and orange zest. Don’t skip these important ingredients!

overhead view of blue Dutch oven full of Bouillabaisse stew

When I need a big recipe for a dinner party or family gathering, and want something a little more upscale, a rich and flavorful stew or soup always comes to mind.  In the winter months,it’s easy to think of a chunky irish beef stew, or sausage and lentil soup

But with winter in Seattle being prime shellfish season, it’s the perfect time to make bouillabaisse with fresh caught seafood.

For everything you need to know about seafood bouillabaisse and a scrumptious recipe you can try at home tonight, read on! Or use the navigation below to jump to the section you’re interested in.

This post contains affiliate links which mean we make a small commission from anything you buy through the link. This doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support our family business. Thank you!

What is bouillabaisse?

If you aren’t familiar with it, you might be wondering, what is bouillabaisse exactly?  Much like the Italian cioppino, bouillabaisse soup is a French seafood stew that was first developed in the Provençal region of France, in the city of Marseille.

Bouillabaisse was originally made with a variety of bony rockfish that were readily harvested off the coast of Marseille. These fish would not sell well in markets, but the fishmongers did not want to let them go to waste.

Side view of a pot of Bouillabaisse soup

The dish usually includes at least three different kinds of fish and seafood simmered together with vegetables and seasonings in a flavorful broth.

According to Julia Child (in her memoir My Life in France),  “the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Provençal soup base—garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel—and, of course, the fish—lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish.”

What does bouillabaisse mean?

The name bouillabaisse means “to boil” and “to reduce heat” in the traditional Occitan French dialect from the Marseille region.

What is the difference between cioppino and bouillabaisse?

As mentioned above, bouillabaisse and cioppino are very similar. While bouillabaisse was developed in France, cioppino was created by their Italian neighbors who had immigrated to San Francisco, California. These Italian American fisherman would make their seafood stew with whatever was left from the day’s catch. 

French bouillabaisse always has saffron added to the broth for color and flavor, and does not necessarily include the red or white wine that is always a part of cioppino. 

I recently learned bouillabaisse is also often served with a French Rouille Sauce for the bread. Though I haven’t tried it this way before, I am definitely planning to in the future.

How do you pronounce bouillabaisse?

For non-French speakers, figuring out how to pronounce bouillabaisse can be a total mystery!

First, know you aren’t alone if you’re unsure.  Second, there are a lot of different pronunciation guides available online to help.  However, phonetically, it’s roughly pronounced: bool-yah-base.  This might not impress native French speakers, but it will be impressive enough when ordering in a restaurant or presenting the dish on your table at home.

Slice of crusty bread in a bowl of bouillabaisse with assorted seafood, broth, and a lemon wedge

How to make bouillabaisse

While it might be tricky to say, learning how to make bouillabaisse soup is something anyone can do, whether you’re a cooking beginner or expert! While fresh seafood is a must, there are several other key ingredients that can’t be left out.

Ingredients

Seafood: The seafood is the star in bouillabaisse, so it’s important to use fresh seafood, preferably caught that same day. There is a lot of flexibility as to the variety and type of seafood, so go with what is the freshest. 

Fresh raw west coast mussels in glass a bowl
Fresh raw west coast mussels

Mussels, clams, and oysters are great because you can bring them home alive. Squid, mussels and crab are traditional choices, but only go with those if you can find them fresh not frozen.

Plate of raw squid rings
Raw squid rings

We don’t have Mediterranean fish available fresh in the US, but there are still lots of great fish choices.

Stick with white fleshed fish like cod, snapper, haddock, grouper, or bass. If you can, get three different varieties of lean white fish. I will sometimes include a flakier white fish like flounder, tilapia or rainbow trout with a firm white fish to get the variety.

Raw shrimp in white bowl
Raw shrimp without shells or tails are easier for eating

While shrimp are not traditionally used in making bouillabaisse, I just LOVE shrimp so typically include them.

If you’re using a good seafood stock, you can remove the shrimp shells and tails before cooking. This makes them much easier to eat from the soup. Just make sure to save them in the freezer for making more seafood stock!

If you’re using clam juice, or boxed seafood stock, I recommend leaving the shells and tails on the shrimp.

Saffron: You can’t make bouillabaisse without saffron. These tiny red and gold threads impart a specific flavor and color to the base of the soup. Make sure to crush the saffron between your fingers before adding it to really release the flavor.

Extreme close up of Moroccan saffron in a pile, on white napkin
Moroccan saffron

You can buy very expensive, tiny bottles of saffron in the spice section of the grocery store. I find a much better price and quality by ordering saffron on Amazon

If you’re worried you won’t use it all, try our cinnamon infused pomegranate saffron rice, or pomegranate and saffron yogurt.

Fennel: The anise flavor of fennel is another important element in the flavor of the bouillabaisse. I prefer slicing a fennel bulb to get the freshest flavor. But you can also use fennel fronds (the darker green grassy part that I love using in blood orange fennel salad with shrimp or fennel zucchini soup), a teaspoon of fennel seeds, or an anise-flavored spirit like Pastis.  

Fennel Bulb with green stalks and fronds attached
Fennel Bulb with green stalks and fronds attached

Orange Zest: You won’t necessarily taste orange in your bouillabaisse, but the brightness added by a strip of the orange zest will be missed if you skip it. You can use a vegetable peeler to peel a strip of zest off (at least a couple inches long). Make sure to just get the orange part, not the bitter white pith underneath.

Seafood Stock: I HIGHLY recommend homemade seafood stock for making bouillabaisse. By using a good seafood stock you can skip fish bones or crab shells in your bouillabaisse, which makes it much easier to eat. That said, you can definitely use a boxed seafood stock, or even jars of clam juice.

Dry white wine or sherry: Adding alcohol is completely optional. I enjoy adding ¼ cup of a dry white wine or dry sherry for added depth of flavor. They go so well with seafood! Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse does not use alcohol and it is not necessarily a traditional ingredient so feel free to omit.

Cooking Instructions

  • Start by prepping all your vegetables and seafood:
    • Thoroughly clean clams and mussels by scrubbing with a stiff brush.  Remove any grit on the shells to keep it from getting into the soup.  Any open shells that don’t snap shut when you touch them should be discarded. Learn more about how to clean and debeard your mussels here. 
    • You also need to scrub then soak your clams to get them to spit the sand out. 
    • Cut your fish into bite-sized pieces using a sharp knife. 
    • Dice the onion and carrot into ¼” pieces, thinly slice 1 cup of fennel bulb, and finely mince 2 shallots and 6 cloves of garlic.
    • Chop your parsley and zest your orange.
  • Heat a large heavy pot (I LOVE this Lodge Dutch Oven) on medium low heat and add ¼ cup good olive oil. 
  • Once the oil is shimmering, sauté the prepared onions, shallot, carrot, fennel, and garlic until lightly golden and softened.
  • Add in 2 cups of seafood stock, a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes with liquid, ¼ cup dry white wine (optional), the strip of orange zest, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil, ½ teaspoon saffron threads (crush between your fingers before adding), and a few turns of the pepper grinder.
  • Bring the bouillabaisse liquid to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to a simmer (low bubble) and cook for 15 minutes.  
  • Add seafood (add squid last if using) and stir to combine.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the shells are opened on the clams and mussels.
  • Remove the thyme stems, and orange zest strip.
  • Ladle steaming hot into bowls and top with additional fresh herbs for garnish.
  • Pair the stew with crusty bread for dipping in that lovely broth and a fresh French salad.
Bouillabaisse with shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, and clams in a shallow bowl.

Tips for making bouillabaisse soup

  • One of my favorite tips for making bouillabaisse soup is that you can customize the dish to suit your tastes.  Just about any seafood and fish can work in this recipe so you can choose what might be on sale, look fantastic at the fish counter, or suit the preferences of your guests and family. Just make sure to stick with fresh white fish that is firm and not oily for the best texture and flavor.
  • To make preparation easier, you can even leave shrimp, crab, and lobsters in their shells to add extra flavor to the broth. Just make sure to have additional bowls or platters for people to discard the shells as they eat.
  • You can either make your own seafood stock (my personal preference), or you can buy fish stock or clam juice at your local grocery store to save time.  In a pinch, you can even use vegetable broth, but make sure you’re using lots of seafood shells to up that seafood flavor.
  • When cooking the stew, make sure you check all shellfish to be sure the shells have opened – discard any that haven’t opened by the time you’re ready to serve.  These are no longer good to eat.
  • To make ahead, prepare the dish a day in advance and reheat gently over low heat before serving.  Bouillabaisse is also perfect leftover if you’re lucky enough to have some left!
  • If you would like the fancier elevated bouillabaisse served in French restaurants, simply strain your broth before adding the seafood. We like to stick with this heartier version that’s more like the original.

Tips for finding fresh seafood

Everywhere I’ve lived my adult life (Hawaii and Washington), it’s really easy to find fresh seafood. In fact you can even just go out and catch it yourself!

Pike Place Market Sign in front of sunset

Here in the Seattle area, I love turning bouillabaisse making into a full day affair by heading to the fish markets at Pike Place Market.

While the most famous fish market (where they throw the fish across the stand) is right at the entrance, there are several markets inside with different prices.

Fish Market in Pike Place Market Seattle

You can explore on your own, but I prefer to let the fishmonger know that I’m making bouillabaise and looking for the freshest, most affordable white fish and shellfish, and squid if they have it!

They are usually willing to prep everything for you: filleting your fish, cutting the squid into rings, and even packing everything on ice for the drive home.

Live fish swimming in grocery store tank

Another good option is to find a nearby Asian grocery store. I have been to both Korean and Chinese grocery stores that have walls of tanks filled with varieties of live fish.

The signs are usually in multiple language, but I have also been able to find an English speaking fishmonger to help me out. They have also been happy to prep the fish, and the prices are often better than what I get in a regular grocery store.

The last tip is to just talk to the seafood department at your local grocery store. They will often be able to special order requests even if they don’t typically carry them in the store.

Pin to save for later

Don’t lose the recipe and tips! You can save the image below on Pinterest, then leave a photo in the comments of the pin when you try the recipe. We love seeing your creations!

Bowl of seafood soup with text saying bouillabaisse French seafood stew
Save this image to Pinterest

While you might not be familiar with this rich and hearty French stew, it’s a fantastic option for your next date night in or for treating special friends and loved ones. 

I hope you love this seafood extravaganza as much as I do!

Food.com

Printable bouillabaisse recipe

Yield: 6 servings

Bouillabaisse

Dinner table set with white wine, bowl of bouillabaisse, and crusty bread

Seafood bouillabaisse is a French stew where fish and shellfish are simmered with earthy root vegetables for a deeply flavorful seafood stew unlike any other. Distinctive flavors that set French bouillabaisse apart from other seafood soups are fennel, saffron, and orange zest. Don't skip these important ingredients!

Ingredients

  • 10 mussels
  • 10 small clams
  • 1 pound firm lean white fish
  • 2 pounds scallops, crab meat, shrimp, or lobster
  • 2 small squid cleaned and sliced into rings
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 2 cups seafood stock or clam juice
  • 28 ounce can diced tomatoes and liquid
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or dry sherry (optional)
  • 1 large strip of orange zest
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • fresh ground pepper
  • additional thyme, parsley, or basil to garnish
  • crusty bread for dipping into the broth

Instructions

Prep Work

  1. Thoroughly clean clams and mussels by scrubbing with a stiff brush.  Remove any grit on the shells to keep it from getting into the soup, and pull off the fuzzy "beard".  Any open shells that don’t snap shut when you touch them should be discarded.
  2. You also need to scrub then soak your clams in salt water about 20 minutes to get them to spit the sand out. 
  3. Cut your fish into bite-sized pieces using a sharp knife. 
  4. Dice the onion and carrot into ¼” pieces, thinly slice 1 cup of fennel bulb, and finely mince 2 shallots and 6 cloves of garlic.
  5. Chop your parsley and zest your orange.

Cooking

  1. Heat a large heavy pot on medium low heat and add olive oil. 
  2. Once the oil is shimmering, sauté the prepared onions, shallot, carrot, fennel, and garlic until lightly golden and softened.
  3. Add in seafood stock, diced tomatoes with liquid, wine (optional), the strip of orange zest, thyme, parsley, tomato paste, salt, basil, saffron threads (crush between your fingers before adding), and a few turns of the pepper grinder.
  4. Bring the bouillabaisse liquid to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer (low bubble) and cook for 15 minutes.  
  6. Add seafood (add squid last if using) and stir to combine.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the shells are opened on the clams and mussels.
  7. Remove the thyme stems, and orange zest strip, then add additional salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Ladle steaming hot into bowls and top with additional fresh herbs for garnish.
  9. Pair the stew with crusty bread for dipping in that lovely broth and a fresh French salad.

Notes

  • If you would like the fancier elevated bouillabaisse served in French restaurants, simply strain your broth before adding the seafood. We like to stick with this heartier version that’s more like the original.
  • You can either make your own seafood stock (my personal preference), or you can buy fish stock or clam juice at your local grocery store to save time.  In a pinch, you can even use vegetable broth, but make sure you’re using lots of seafood shells to up that seafood flavor.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 643Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 229mgSodium: 2364mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 83g

Nutrition information is an estimate only.


Free Cute Kid Snacks
We'd love to keep in touch. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and get your free download of our favorite healthy cute kid snacks.

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your costs will be the same but Eating Richly Even When You're Broke will receive a small commission. This helps us to cover some of the costs for this site. Thank you so much for your support!
Nutritional and cost information is for estimating purposes only, and subject to variations due to region, seasonality, and product availability.


1 thought on “Bouillabaisse Recipe for Seafood Lovers”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.