Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to Make Bouillabaisse Out of Common Household Items

Bouillabaisse is the quintessential fish dish. Originating in France, it has an air of sophisticated gourmet. It is a complex collection of flavors and exotic seafood that generally takes the better part of an afternoon to pull together. That is, if you can find all the ingredients.

Garlic and onion

Well, you actually can. And, in the grocery section of the Wal-Mart. The defining flavors of bouillabaisse are citrus, cardamom, and coriander. (Note the absence of saffron. Despite the unmistakable flavors of sunshine and happiness this best loved seasoning brings to anything it is added to, I have been told by those who know more than I that saffron is not a defining flavor of bouillabaisse.) 

As for the fish, you really need an oily fish, a firm fish, and a couple of varieties of shellfish. Add some tomato, some veg, and some olive oil, and you've got it.

To make bouillabaisse out of common household items, you will need:

2 lemons, juiced and zested
1 orange, juiced and zested
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Half a white onion, sliced into strips
1 leek, minced
2 red peppers, slices into strips
1 medium zucchini, sliced
The liquid from one can of stewed tomatoes
2 tuna steaks
2 trout or salmon steaks
1 small bag of medium shrimp
1 small bag of medium scallops
Half a bunch of parsley, stemmed


Most of us purchase most of these items regularly. What you don't have on hand, you can find fairly easily.

Here is the veg you will need for this dish

Prep your veg first. This will take the longest. Depending on your tools and how much assistance you have, this will take 30-60 minutes. We worked together and have a mandolin, a micro-planer, a citrus juicer, and a good set of knives. Our prep time was 30 minutes and entailed juicing and zesting the citrus, slicing the peppers, onion, and zucchini, pressing the garlic, and stemming the parsley.

Ahhh, the mandolin

Zest from the micro-planer

The cooking can actually be done in about 30-45 minutes, and you can still get that complex, layered flavor. The trick is to cook everything in the right order, and to cook the right things together. So, with veg prepped, preheat a generous amount of olive oil in a stock pot and a large frying pan. While they are heating up, season your fish with the zest and spices, going light on the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Seasoned fish steaks

Seasoned shellfish

Cook the shrimp and scallops together in the stock pot until the scallops are nearly done.

This is the base

Transfer the scallops to the frying pan to sear and add butter to the shrimp.

Scallops are better seared

Once both shrimp and scallops have cooked, transfer them to a platter to rest.

We'll come back to these in a bit

Add the onions and leek to the stock pot, where they will pick up some of the flavor form the shellfish.

Layering on onions and leek

At the same time, add the red pepper, garlic, and about a third of the tomato liquid to the frying pan. Use a deglazing motion to remove any scallop bits from the pan.

Preparing a layer of peppers and tomato

When the peppers are tender and the pan is deglazed, add this to the stock pot.

Add a light oil like grapeseed to the pan. Once it has heated, add the fish steaks to cook.

Fish steaks are the next layer

While the fish is cooking, gradually add a couple of splashes of the citrus juice and more of the tomato liquid to the stock pot. When the fish is nearly cooked, add it to the stock pot, along with the cooked shellfish.

Use a little brandy or cognac to deglaze the frying pan, adding this to the stock pot once the alcohol has cooked out.

A little brandy adds to the complexity

Finally, saute the zucchini in a little light oil and add to the stock pot. Let everything simmer together for about 5 or 10 minutes. Transfer to a large platter.

To the table

Serve in shallow bowls with bread. Portion out some of the broth into small bowls on the side to dip your bread in.

On the plate


  1. Nice post. I was wondering if you would like to put up a link to this fish/seafood recipe in my Food on Friday Series.

    1. Done! Thanks for the invitation to participate in your Food on Friday series. What a great way to connect with other foodies!

    2. Mary - thanks for linking this in. I have put the recipe title in for you. Have a great week.

  2. Mary, thanks for helping to get FoF Scallops off to a good start. I will be interested to see how many links we get this time. I suspect not as many as for last week's Jams. Cheers

    1. I love your Food on Friday - what a great way to share recipes and connect with other foodies. I'll check back in a bit to see what gets posted.