Let me just prepare you for the tragic news that this is not a Bouillabaisse. No Bouillabaisse prepared outside of the South of France can be. Our recipe is spot on, and the flavors are reminiscent of the Bouillabaisse I had several times in Marseille. But, still, it's not a real Bouillabaisse.
For it to be authentic, at least according to any French chef or Mediterranean fisherman, a Bouillabaisse is only true if the fish in it was plucked straight out of the Mediterranean.
So instead of weaver, stargazer, anglerfish or conger eel, which you'll be hard-pressed to find locally, we've used cod and salmon as great standbys.
While the broth is the true essence of a superb Bouillabaisse, it all begins with selecting the best seafood. Traditionally, shellfish is usually not incorporated into the dish and when in France, you might be considered a touch too snooty for adding them.
However, we believe everyone is an aristocrat deserving of tasty mussels and clams. Have your guests bow and curtsy upon serving.
How to buy mussels and clams
- Make sure those mussels are alive because a dead mussel is an inedible mussel. To ensure they're alive and kicking, check that the shell is completely closed. If you notice one slightly open, give it a sharp tap. If nothing happens, sadly, you must part ways. But if it closes quickly, well the end is near anyway and definitely safe to eat.
- Because the mussels are alive that means they're breathing, so make sure you don't take them home in a plastic bag.
- Disregard any that are damaged, chipped or fractured. Lastly, take a deep whiff. Funky? You know what to do.
- Some mussels have "beards", which is a byssal thread or fiber that emerges from the shell. Just pull it before adding to the Bouillabaisse.
- When cooking, be sure to add your clams first as they take much longer to open. Mussels should be added about five minutes after the clams have been added to ensure your mussels are not overcooked.
Now we move onto the base of the broth. Get this right, and everything will taste amazing. The saffron potatoes make the dish even more rustic and filling.
When cooking your saffron potatoes, please be sure to bring your water to a boil and salt your water first.
I'm going to make this dish again for the family to celebrate Bastille Day at home and expose the kids to a bit of French culture, but we shared it with you early because the success of this dish is all in the slow, patient preparation. And requires a few days to get everything ready.
The broth requires some attention to get the creamy emulsification that beautifully coats all the seafood. It shouldn't run off like a soup would but cling to the fish and shrimp. Make sure you bring your broth to a medium boil to break down the oil into smaller molecules. That achieves the emulsification for a proper Bouillabaisse.
How to buy shrimp
- I have some more grim news for you. Don't buy shrimp that's already deveined and shelled, at least not for this dish. That process tends to strip the flavor a bit to create a bland shrimp. We want the shrimp to retain as much flavor from the shell to essence the broth.
- But do get them with the heads removed, because who wants to deal with that? And they make the shrimp spoil faster.
- Get your shrimp frozen. It's a no-brainer. They'll be fresher, and you can keep them frozen for several weeks if needed.
- Look at the color, too. Brown, black spots, yellow or anything off from the standard pink is a no go.
- Aim for medium-sized shrimp, about 20 to a pound.
- If you want to get specific about the species, we usually get a Gulf White or Gulf Pink. But most any will do.
- After the shellfish have been added to the Bouillabaisse and both the clams and mussels open, add your shrimp. The residual heat from the broth will gently cook your shrimp and give it a nice texture, but be sure to put a lid on the pot to keep the temperature locked. Uncover after 10 minutes or so.
For this recipe I always go with Manila Clams, the brine flavor they release when they open up is like nothing you have ever tasted.
What does it taste like?
A rich earthy, floral fish stock.
How long does it keep?
Fisherman created the dish from their daily catch, so it shouldn't keep at all. But if you have leftovers, it should keep for about two days.
How much do the ingredients cost?
Saffron, shrimp, and shellfish can cost a pretty penny, so around $50 for everything.
How should I thicken it?
If you find that your bouillabaisse is too thin and want to thicken it, just add 1 tbs. of white roux. Be sure to only whisk the roux in after the bouillabaisse has come to a boil.
How should I reheat it?
I don't recommend reheating bouillabaisse because the shellfish will dry up and shrink. But if you must, please remove the shellfish (if you haven't eaten it all). Bring the broth to a slow simmer and quickly serve. You can always add fresh clams or shrimp for another round of goodness.
What fish is good in a Bouillabaisse?
Because this is a fish-based stew, you can add just about any fish you want, but I would suggest any white fish, example- halibut, cod, tilapia, grouper, or sea bass.
Suggestions and Alternatives
- The recipe is a delightful process. Enjoy it.
- Be sure to soak your clams in a salted, cold water bath. It'll force the clams to expel any grit or sand they may be holding to for whatever reason.
- If saffron is not in your budget, try adding a little turmeric and paprika.
- You can also use lobster and crab but add the lobster first then the crab. Crab does not take long to cook, and crab meat tends to break up easily. You don't want your bouillabaisse to become a chowder.
- Save and freeze the shrimp shells. You can use them as a base for other stews like our Lobster Bisque.
- Chances are you're going to have leftover mussels and clams, so experiment with other tasty shellfish recipes. Our friends at Foodal have a dynamite recipe for Linguine with Baked Clams.
- 1/2 cup grapeseed Oil
- 1 whole yellow onion, chopped
- 1 large leek, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 stalk fennel, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 whole Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups fish stock quality
- 2 cups chicken stock quality
- 1 whole orange peeled
- 8 whole white peppercorns
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 4 stems thyme, chopped
- 1/4 cup fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram
- 2 tablespoons paprika, ground
- 2 teaspoons saffron, threads quality
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 pound Manila clams quality
- 1/2 pound bay mussels quality
- 1/2 pound shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 ounces Pernod
- 1/2 pound salmon, cubed quality
- 1/2 pound cod, cubed quality
- 3 whole fingerling potatoes, halved
- Using a heavy bottom stock pot, heat grapeseed oil over medium heat. (about 2 minutes).
- After 2 minutes add chopped onions, leeks, celery, fennel bulbs and a pinch of salt.
- Slowly sweat them until tender but not brown (about 2 minutes).
- Add garlic and saute 2 minutes until garlic is tender and fragrant then add your chopped Roma tomatoes and dry white wine.
- Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add fish stock, simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add chicken stock and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add peels from 1 orange, white peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, fennel seeds, fresh marjoram, paprika, saffron, and cayenne.
- Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add clams first, then mussels after 2 minutes.
- Simmer 2 minutes. add peeled and deveined shrimp. shut off heat and allow shrimp to cook 2 minutes.
- Add 1 inch cubed salmon and cod.
- Add Pernod, gently stir and let it rest for 5 minutes.
- Ladle into a bowl and garnish with fennel fronds.
Instructions for Fingerling Potatoes
- Using a small pot add 2 tablespoons salt and 4 cups water to a boil.
- Add 2 tablespoons of quality saffron and allow to steep for about 5 minutes.
- Add 3 halved fingerling potatoes to cook.
- Remove potatoes after 30 minutes, from saffron water and add to Bouillabaisse.
Edwin D'Costa is a former professional chef with an extensive and illustrious career spanning more than 20 years. His experience spans positions at five-star and Michelin-rated restaurants in New York including Picholine and Jean George Vongerichten's Vong. His training began with noted chefs Wolfgang Puck and Todd English.
As he longer works at snooty NYC restaurants, he continues with his love of music and now managing a chaotic household of five.