Bouillabaisse Recipe: A Simple Approach Without All the Rules

Seafood Recipes

There are times when the beauty in this life stops you dead in your tracks. A misty mountain vista with shades of blue and purple, a fiery orange sunset that lights up the sky, an uplifting piece of music. The same could be said of the iconic French Bouillabaisse recipe. When it’s done right, it’s like time stops, and for a brief moment, all is right with the world. 

New England-style bouillabaisse recipe
Photo by Lynne Graves from New England Soups from the Sea

The Many Rules of French Bouillabaisse

A classic French Bouillabaisse is one of those dishes that has more rules than a football game. Every time I make it I think some fancy French is going to appear in my kitchen and start throwing yellow flags.

Flag! You used the wrong types of fish. Flag! You didn’t marinate the fish properly. Flag! You didn’t use whole fish. Flag! You didn’t make a rouille. Flag! You didn’t serve it as they do in Marseilles.

I hate rules when it comes to cooking.

But keep in mind that the true spirit of any Bouillabaisse recipe is that of a humble fisherman’s stew, made with the so-called “trash” fish that were too bony or unusual to be sold at markets.

Eventually, the fancy French chefs got their hands on it and made it into something highly refined (and pretty damn expensive too) with very specific steps for preparing, cooking, and serving it. So-called “authentic” Bouillabaisse recipes call for at a minimum, four different types of fish and typically shellfish too.

But these rules, for the most part, are rarely followed to the degree the purists claim are necessary. As bouillabaisse spread from its origins in Marseilles to seafood-rich places all around the world, cooks adapted it with their local ingredients and adhered to some guiding principles that thread together most Bouillabaisse recipes.

And because I live in New England, this recipe will be a New England-style Bouillabaisse!

I’ve come up with three “rules” that are certain to give you good results every time.

More Seafood Stew Recipes to Try

Three “Rules” for Making a New England-Style Bouillabaisse

Rule #1: Use a variety of New England fish and shellfish

Generally speaking, the more variety, the better, especially shellfish because of the succulent liquors contained within which will add wonderful depths of flavor. New England littlenecks, blue mussels, blue crab, squid, and sea or bay scallops are all great.

Obviously, seafood isn’t cheap today so do the best you can. If all you can swing is one type of fish and some clams and mussels, that’s good enough. Still not cheap but when you follow rule #3 below, trust me, it’ll be worth it.

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When it comes to fish, I like including both a lean, mild fish with a more oily, fatty fish. I’m sure that would be a major penalty flag to Bouillabaisse purists (because fatty fish can cloud the broth) but I don’t care. I love the contrasting textures and flavors of both.

And if possible, seek out something besides cod and haddock. Lesser known species of fish have just as much nutritive value and are just as delicious as more commonly consumed fish.

Turns out, we have A LOT of them in New England too. Because if we are to support a more sustainable system of seafood, it’s important that we broaden our choices and embrace more local options.

Blackfish, black sea bass, skate, sea robin, porgy and monkfish are all mild New England white fish, similar to cod and haddock, with a tender but firm texture. Bluefish, striped bass, and Atlantic mackerel would be better choices in the fatty fish department than tuna, swordfish, and farmed Atlantic salmon.

If you can find something even more uncommon try it! Jonah crabs, periwinkles, slipper limpets, and razor clams are rarely seen in markets but have potential if more people embrace them. And if you don’t live in New England, try whatever is local to you, including freshwater species.

Rule #2: Make your own fish stock

No yellow flags here! This is one rule the Bouillabaisse purists would surely approve of. If you’ve been following my blog lately you know I recommend homemade fish stock (also called fish broth) with all of my seafood soup recipes. The flavors you’ll create will be superior to anything from a box or can.

You can learn to make your own fish broth here.

Rule #3: Infuse the fish stock with fennel, saffron, and orange zest

There’s more to it than that but those three ingredients will work some serious magic with your homemade fish stock. Always include them and you really can’t go wrong. My recipe includes some fennel seeds for a little extra dose of anise flavor. 

Optional Rule #4: Make a Red Pepper Rouille

Rouille, a zesty, garlicky mayonnaise, is typically part of a traditional Bouillabaisse recipe. It’s not essential in my book but it sure is delicious on some toasted bread or even mixed into the broth. It is an extra step so don’t sweat it if you can’t get to it.

How to Make a Red Pepper Rouille

Step 1: Slice one red pepper

Slice one red pepper into about four pieces and lay them flat on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.

sliced red pepper

Make sure to slice off the top of the pepper (so it lays flat) and remove the seeds and fleshy parts.

Step 2: Broil the red pepper slices

Lay the pepper slices skin side up on a baking sheet and broil for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the skin is charred.

broiled red pepper slices

Remove and let cool for a few minutes. Peel off the skins. They will peel off very easily.

Step 3: Blend in a food processor

Add the roasted pepper slices, garlic, egg yolk, cayenne (or paprika or red pepper flakes), and lemon juice to a food processor and blend well. Note: see ingredient amounts in the recipe.

Gradually add olive oil in a slow and steady stream with the blade running, until the mixture thickens like mayonnaise.  

blending the rouille for the bouillabaisse

Salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to the fridge where it will further thicken.


bouillabaisse rouille

Again, this is an optional step but man oh man a rouille spread on some toasted bread and dipped in the broth will amp your New England-style Bouillabaisse satisfaction level from a ten to an eleven (and because Spinal Tap references are always a good thing).

New England-Style Bouillabaisse Recipe

New England-Style Bouillabaisse Recipe

This Bouillabaisse recipe is rooted in the classic French style but adapts it with local New England seafood.
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
CourseMain Course
CuisineAmerican, French
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Servings8 servings
AuthorCraig Fear


For the optional rouille (makes about 1 ½ cups):

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • pinch cayenne smoked paprika, red pepper flakes or dash hot sauce
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the bouillabaisse:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 2 leeks white part only, diced
  • 4-6 cloves garlic minced
  • ¼ tsp fennel seeds
  • 4 plum tomatoes skinned and deseeded
  • 1 cup white wine dry
  • 2 quarts fish stock or lobster stock or 1 quart clam juice plus 1 quart water or fish stock
  • 1 orange zest from one orange
  • ½ tsp saffron threads
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 pounds clams littlenecks, scrubbed and rinsed clean
  • 1 pound mussels scrubbed and rinsed clean
  • 1 pound whitefish choose a lean whitefish such as cod, haddock, flounder, monkfish, black sea bass, blackfish
  • 1 pound fatty fish such as striped bass, mackerel, bluefish, swordfish, salmon
  • 1 pound shrimp ideally wild Gulf shrimp
  • ½ pound scallops and/or squid

Optional seasonings, to taste

  • Fresh basil finely chopped
  • Fresh parsley finely chopped
  • Fresh tarragon finely chopped
  • Lemon wedges
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the rouille:

  • Preheat broiler in the oven.
  • Remove the top of the pepper and slice into 4 pieces. Remove the seeds and fleshy parts.
  • Lay the pepper slices skin side up on a baking sheet and broil about 10-15 minutes, or until the skin is charred.
  • Remove and let cool for a few minutes. Peel off the skins.
  • Add pepper, garlic, egg yolk, and lemon juice to a food processor and blend well.
  • Gradually add olive oil in a slow and steady stream with blade running, until the mixture thickens like mayonnaise. Salt and pepper, to taste.

For the bouillabaisse:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot (at least 10 quarts) over medium heat. Add onion, leeks, fennel bulb and fennel seeds and saute for about 5 minutes or until veggies are fragrant and translucent. Add the garlic in the last minute.
  • Add tomatoes and wine, stock and simmer several minutes until wine is slightly reduced.
  • Add stock, orange zest, saffron threads, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and cayenne. Cover the pot, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer 15-20 minutes.
  • Add clams, cover and simmer 5-7 minutes or until shells open.
  • Add mussels, cover and simmer 3-5 minutes or until shells open.
  • Add fish, shrimp, and optional scallops and squid. Add more stock and/or water, if needed. Simmer about 5-10 minutes or until fish is cooked through and easily flakes apart.
  • Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste.


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 615kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 51g | Fat: 40g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 26g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 219mg | Sodium: 1100mg | Potassium: 1061mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 1352IU | Vitamin C: 34mg | Calcium: 177mg | Iron: 4mg
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Bouillabaisse Recipe: A Simple Approach Without All the Rules

About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.

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