Bouillabaisse (Provençal or Creole Fisherman’s Stew)

Steamed shrimp

Steamed shrimp

By Cat, Nov 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

I was first introduced to seafood stew (other than oyster stew) in the early 1970s, at Jakes Restaurant in Portland, Oregon, where they are famous for their New Orleans or Creole-style Bouillabaisse. I’ve never made it myself – it was just so much fun to go to Jakes. But now that I’m living in Montana, I want to give it a try.

This seafood stew originated by fisherman in  Marseille (Provence region of France), using fish they were unable to sell in the markets. What makes this soup/stew different from other seafood stews is the “selection of Provençal herbs and spices in the broth.” (3) Versions of the French soup were created in the French quarter of New Orleans, adding hot spices to the mix. Although rockfish common off the coast of Provence were the original ingredients, as the recipe spread to other countries, the more common white fish (cod, snapper, whiting, haddock, bass and halibut) were used instead of rockfish, and shellfish such as shrimp and mussels were added.

See also:  1. Fish and Seafood Menu2. French Ethnic Menu3. Live Clams & Mussels: Storage, Brining and Steaming4. Using Crustaceans (crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp); 5. Homemade tomato paste6. Italian Seafood Stew (Cioppino, Cacciucco)7. Easy Seafood Stew; Other sites: Fine Cooking: Bouillabaisse (9)

Bouillabaisse du pêcheur (French Fisherman’s Stew)

I’ve adapted this recipe for Fisherman’s Bouillabaisse (Bouillabaisse du pêcheur)  from Soup by Coralie Castle(2) and in Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking (1).

The mandatory Provençal herbs and spices include cracked fennel seeds, bay leaf, savory and parsley. Marjoram, rosemary and thyme may also be included; lavender is also often included. See also Herbs & Spices: Blends for more about Herbes de Provence

Halibut Steaks

Halibut Steaks

You can use your own favorite seafood from a broad selection provided by Coralie Castle; note that unlike for cioppino or cacciuccoclams and mussels are not on the list, below. (Photo, left, from More to door (4))

  • Crustaceans: crab, shrimp, crayfish (crawdads), langoustes (spiny lobster) and lobster;
  • Firm fish: sea bass, flounder, grunt, haddock, perch, scrod, red snapper, gray snapper, sea trout, rockfish, and halibut;
  • Delicate fish: whiting, red mullet, sablefish, and sole.

My recipe is for the Provençal version; if you want a Creole-style version, add cayenne or Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste, and use mostly crustaceans – especially crayfish (crawdads). Serves 10 – 12

Ingredients & Equipment

  • Veggies & herbs/spices
  • 4 – 5 fresh tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped (optional ingredient)
  • ¾ cup minced onion
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced white of leeks
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced and pressed with ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 – 5 fresh tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped (optional)
  • Herbes de Provence, to taste; be sure to include 1 sprig fresh fennel fronds and/or freshly-ground fennel seeds
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 3″ strip of orange peel
  • ¼- ½ tsp saffron
  • Stew:
  • 5 – 6 lb fresh seafood (choose from list above; I use lobster or crayfish, red snapper, and halibut or sea bass
  • ½ – ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp unrefined sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste (about ¼ tsp)
  • 3 quarts water (or any combination of water, fish stock, clam juice and/or dry white wine such as dry vermouth)
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce, or cayenne (optional, for Creole-style)
  • For serving:
  • 10 – 12 slices stale baguette or other French bread.
  • Equipment
  • large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, or heavy-bottomed stockpot
  • serving platter (for seafood)
  • 10 – 12 individual serving bowls


  1. Prep veggies, herbs: If using tomatoes, peel, remove seeds, then chop and place into pot. See Using and Preserving Tomatoes for details.
  2. Mince onion, slice leeks thinly; combine in small bowl. Mince garlic, sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt, then press to a pulp with side of knife blade. Add all to tomatoes in pot.
  3. Prepare your selection of Herbes de Provence; be sure to include 1 sprig fresh fennel fronds and/or freshly-ground fennel seeds. Chop parsley (leaves and stems) and add to the herb mix. Add all to tomatoes in pot. NOTE: keep the saffron separate from the other herbs.
  4. Using a veggie peeler, peel a 3″ long, approximately 1/4″ wide strip off a fresh orange; add strip to the pot.
  5. Prep fish: Rinse fish, then cut into bite-size pieces, keeping firm fish and delicate fish separate.
  6. Prep crustaceans: see Using Crustaceans (crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp) for details on preparing them prior to cooking.
  7. Bouillabaisse: Arrange prepped crustaceans over veggies, herbs and orange peel strip in pot. Top with prepped firm fish (delicate fish will be add later).
  8. Pour olive oil over all; sprinkle with salt, pepper and saffron.
  9. Por liquid(s) over, cover pot and bring to a fast boil. Coralie Castle (2) emphasizes that “quick cooking is essential to the consistency.” Boil 7 minutes, then add delicate fish and boil 6 minutes more. Do not cook more than 15 minutes total. Remove from heat.
  10. Remove fish and crustaceans to a serving platter.
  11. Adjust flavor of broth as needed. For Creole-style, add hot sauce or cayenne to the broth.


  1. To be authentically Provençal, the bouillabaisse is served buffet-style. Each diner moistens a piece of stale bread with the broth, and places it in his/her bowl. Then selects pieces of seafood to add to bowl and ladles broth over all before sitting down to eat.
  2. At Jakes, the bouillabaisse is served in a bowl with bread on the side.


  1. Fisherman’s Bouillabaisse (Bouillabaisse du pêcheur) in Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking, copyright Librairie Larousse MCMLXVIII, MCMLXXV, and published by Bonanza Books, New York)
  2. Soup by Coralie Castle, copyright 1971, and Published by 101 Productions, San Francisco
  3. Wikipedia, on Bouillabaisse (
  4. More To Door halibut photo: uk/shop/halibut-steaks (link removed and disguisedbecause site contains malware)
  5. Fine Cooking on shelling and deveining shrimp (
  6. Fine Cooking on Getting to the meat of a lobster:
  7. Great British Chefs, on How to remove meat from a crab:
  8. Cajun Crawfish, on prepping crayfish (crawdads):
  9. Fine Cooking Bouillabaisse recipe:

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