Bouillabaisse has the power to transport me to the Vieux Port de Marseilles in a single bite. It’s a hearty, brothy fish stew with a near-perfect flavor balance of fresh seafood, safron, fennel, and orange, served with rouilles lathered croutons. Just one taste and I hear the calls of waiters enticing me into their bistros as sailboat halyards ping against masts in the background. The Marseillais take their bouillabaisse (pronounced boo-ya-behs) very seriously and claim that it cannot be made anywhere else. Not so. I’ve lived in France, and I know from experience that a wonderful bouillabaisse can be made in any kitchen in any country.
The foundation of a great bouillabaisse is the fish broth. It’s traditional to make it with several fish varieties so each can add its own flavor. You don’t, however, need to import fish from the Mediterranean. Instead, buy the freshest sustainable fish available to you locally, and pass the cooked broth ingredients through a food mill so you get every last drop of flavor from them. It makes all the difference.
The rest of the soup comes together easily: Marinate four kinds of white fish fillets and then poach them in the fish broth. Cook the potatoes in the broth, too. Simple croutons topped with rouille—a coarse paste of garlic, cayenne, breadcrumbs, cooked potato, fish broth, and olive oil—bring a garlicky note to the dish and soak up the fragrant broth.
Sure, bouillabaisse takes an afternoon to make, but it’s a showstopping all-in-one meal that’s absolutely worth the effort. Try it, and you’ll soon feel the warm Mediterranean breeze and hear the slap of the waves against the fishing boats in the harbor—all without leaving home.
Eight steps to a showstopping bouillabaisse
Toast the croutons in the oven until golden; then turn the oven off and let them dry completely.
Add water to the aromatics, vegetables, herbs,spices, and fish parts to make the broth.
To extract flavor and give the broth body, grind the cooked broth ingredients in a food mill.
The oil in the broth separates, so use an immersion blender to emulsify it, or whisk vigorously.
For even more fennel flavor, drizzle the fish fillets with pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur) before cooking.
Parcook the potatoes in the fish broth (they should still feel slightly firm when cut into); then let them finish cooking off-heat in the hot broth.
To make the rouille, mash garlic, breadcrumbs, broth, cooked potato, and olive oil in a mortar.
Use a paring knife to check the fish for doneness—the flesh should be opaque throughout.