Authentic Marseille Bouillabaisse: A Taste of the French Riviera

Authentic Marseille-Style Bouillabaisse Recipe: A Classic French Seafood Dish

Transport yourself to the sunny shores of Provence with this traditional bouillabaisse recipe. Marseille Bouillabaisse French fish stew captures the essence of Mediterranean cuisine, combining an array of fresh seafood with aromatic herbs and spices. Perfect for seafood lovers and adventurous home cooks alike!

Bouillabaisse originated as a humble fisherman’s dish in Marseille, using the unsold catch of the day. Today, it’s celebrated as one of France’s most beloved culinary treasures. Our recipe stays true to its rustic roots while offering a feast fit for royalty.

What Makes a True Bouillabaisse?

Authentic bouillabaisse is all about the fish. Forget the fancy restaurant versions loaded with lobster and scallops – a real Marseille bouillabaisse focuses on a variety of local fish, creating a rich, flavorful broth that’s the heart and soul of the dish.

Key components include:

  • A mix of at least 3-4 types of fish
  • Aromatic vegetables like fennel and leeks
  • The distinctive flavors of saffron and orange zest
  • A garlicky rouille sauce served on crisp baguette toasts

Choosing Your Fish

While traditional Marseille bouillabaisse calls for Mediterranean fish like rascasse and conger eel, don’t worry if you can’t find them. The spirit of bouillabaisse is using what’s fresh and available. Here’s what to look for:

  • A mix of firm-fleshed fish (like monkfish or halibut)
  • Some oily fish (such as sea bream or mackerel)
  • Lean white fish (like snapper or cod)
  • Optional: A few mussels or small crabs for variety

Ask your fishmonger for recommendations based on what’s fresh and local. Remember, the key is variety!


For the Broth:

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion (12 ounces; 340g), diced
  • 1 large leek (1 pound; 450g), washed and diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb (8 ounces; 225g), cored and diced
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  • 2 large pinches saffron threads
  • One (2-inch) strip zest from 1 orange
  • Large pinch cayenne pepper or other red chile powder
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) tomato paste
  • 6 plum tomatoes (1 1/4 pounds; 565g), cored, seeded, and diced
  • 2 pounds (900g) whole fish or fish bones and heads (see note)
  • 2 cups (475ml) dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) Pernod or pastis (optional)
  • 2 quarts (1.9L) boiling water, or more as needed
  • 2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Rouille:

  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup crumbled stale bread or panko bread crumbs (1/2 ounce; 15g)
  • Large pinch cayenne pepper or other red chile powder
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil

To Finish:

  • 3 to 5 pounds (1.3 to 2.25kg) mixed whole and/or filleted fish (see note)
  • 1 pound (453g) mussels and/or crabs (optional; see note)
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Baguette toasts, for serving


Preparing the Flavorful Broth:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, leek, fennel, garlic, fennel seeds, saffron, orange zest, cayenne pepper, and thyme. Sauté until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Layer in fish and/or fish bones, stirring to combine.
  3. Pour in white wine and Pernod (if using). Bring to a boil, then cook for 3 minutes to evaporate the alcohol.
  4. Add enough boiling water to cover all ingredients. Toss in parsley and bay leaf. Bring to a vigorous boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Creating the Zesty Rouille:

  1. In a mortar and pestle (or food processor), combine garlic, bread, cayenne, saffron, and egg yolk into a paste. Add 2 tablespoons of hot broth to thin slightly.
  2. Gradually drizzle in olive oil while mixing to create a mayonnaise-like consistency. Add more broth if needed. Season with salt and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 3 days).

Finishing Your Bouillabaisse:

  1. Working in batches, blend the broth and solids until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing to extract maximum flavor.
  2. Return strained broth to a gentle simmer. Poach fish in batches, starting with larger pieces and ending with delicate fillets. Transfer cooked fish to a serving platter.
  3. If using, cook mussels or crabs in the simmering broth until just done.
  4. Serve the platter of fish alongside the aromatic broth. Offer baguette toasts and rouille for guests to enjoy as they please!

Chef’s Tips for Bouillabaisse Success

  • Don’t rush the broth – those 45 minutes of simmering are crucial for developing deep flavor.
  • Rouille can be made a day in advance to save time and allow flavors to meld.
  • For a dramatic presentation, serve the whole fish on the platter and let guests help themselves.
  • Pair your bouillabaisse with a chilled Provençal rosé or crisp white wine for the ultimate French Riviera experience.

Why You’ll Love This Bouillabaisse

This bouillabaisse recipe offers a true taste of Marseille right in your own kitchen. The complex flavors of the broth, the variety of tender fish, and the garlicky kick of the rouille create a memorable meal that’s perfect for special occasions or when you want to impress. It’s a celebration of seafood that brings the warmth and conviviality of the Mediterranean to your table.

So gather your friends, pour some wine, and enjoy this iconic French dish. Bon appétit!

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