Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençale dish originating from the port city of Marseille. It was originally a fish stew made by local fishermen, using the bony rockfish from the bottom of their fishing nets, which they were unable to sell to restaurants or fish markets.
These days if you visit Marseille, you will see bouillabaisse served in restaurants as a gastronomical delight, with the prices to match. (I know this because my husband’s family is from Provence so we go to Marseille often!) So the locals like my family simply make the recipe at home.
Pronounced boo-yaa-baisse, the word bouillabaisse comes from the Provençal-Occitan word bolhabaissa. That in turn comes from the french word bolhir (meaning “to boil”) and abaissar (meaning “to simmer”). I say this because I have to point out that the bouillabaisse is one that needs to simmer a bit rather than cook at full heat.
The bouillabaisse is an Instant pot recipe you have to be more careful with than say, the boeuf bourguignon. While I adore using a pressure cooker, as you can tell by all the French Instant Pot receipes I have on the blog, the light and delicate seafood is not meant to be overcooked in the same way as a bourguignon or coq au vin can be.
Those dishes are traditionally were left cooking for hours because the meats used are not the most tender, so the length of cooking just allowed the meat to really disintegrate. An extra 1/2 hour usually never hurts a stew. For the fish and seafood in a bouillabaisse, on the other hand, you are going to have to watch the timing.
Recipes for bouillabaisse vary from family to family in Marseille. Small brasseries and diners in Marseille were so annoyed to see new upscale restaurants produce a version of “bouillabaisse” for foreign tourists that has little in common with the original dish, that in 1980 they came up with something called the “La Charte de la Bouillabaisse” (meaning the “Bouillabaisse Charter”).
The Charter codified both ingredients and method of preparation. French cuisine can be quite picky about dishes that are considered part of the cultural heritage and the bouillabaisse is no different.
An authentic Marseille bouillabaisse must include rascasse (scorpian fish), a bony rockfish which lives in the Calanques that are just outside of Marseille. It usually also has congre (European conger eel) and grondin (sea robin).
Now if you are wondering where to get these ingredients, never fear. These are not the easiest ingredients to get in Paris where I live either. And since I’m pretty sure the Bouillabaisse Charter folks are going to sniff their nose at the Instant Pot, we are going to be adapting their recipe. (The Marseillais are not that fond of Parisians anyway. Similarly, you should see the debate over the salad niçoise!)
In the spirit of the Marseillaise fisherman making lemons out of lemonade, we are going to be using whatever seafood ingredients you can find. Most home chefs in France use the white fish and shellfish that are much easier to find such as:
- Fish: monkfish, turbot, red snapper, striped bass, porgy, grouper, cod, red and grey mullet, monkfish, John Dory or gurnard.
- Shellfish: clams, scallops, blue crabs, lobster, large shrimp, or mussels.
Basically, I would recommend that you get at least 2 varieties of fish and 1 type of shellfish for your recipe. Fresh is better than frozen.
The other classic pantry ingredients in a bouillabaisse include vegetables such as leeks, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes that are simmered together with the broth and served with the fish.
Along with the bouillabaisse, a spicy mayonnaise called a rouille made with olive oil, garlic, saffron, and cayenne pepper. It is somewhat similar to aioli sauce, but more spicy.
It is usually served in a small individual dipping bowl on the side of the plate.
Serving in a restaurant
In a traditional bouillabaisse restaurant, the soup bouillon is served first, and the fish and potatoes removed from the soup and served separately.
Some of the rouille mayonnaise is spread on thick slices of pain complet country bread that has been rubbed with garlic. These pieces of bread usually sit on top of the soup, similar to the French onion soup.
Frequently asked questions
What to serve with it?
Bouillabaisse is usually a dish in itself, when it includes potatoes. You can also serve it with pain complet country bread, baguette, or large croutons.
What drinks to serve with it?
Can you freeze it?
Yes, bouillabaisse can be frozen in certain instances. You need to allow it to cool completely before freezing it.
Remove any skin or bones that might still be in the mixture. Allow mixture to cool completely before dividing into freezer-safe containers.
For the Bouillabaisse
- 1 to 1 ½ pounds chopped boneless fish (eg. monkfish, turbot, red snapper, striped bass, grouper, cod, monkfish)
- 1 pound of shellfish (eg. clams, scallops, blue crabs, lobster, large shrimp, or mussels)
- 5-6 medium sized potatoes
- 2 large tomatoes
- 1 leek
- 1 large onion
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves of crushed garlic
- 2 pinches saffron
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 star anise
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 cups of fish or lobster stock
Rouille Mayonnaise sauce
- 8 cloves of crushed garlic
- 2 red chillies
- 2 egg yolks
- 25cl (1 cup) of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
- pinch of saffron
- pinch of cayenne pepper
For the Bouillabaisse:
- Cut the leek with the green top left whole and the white part finely sliced.
- Peel and chop the potatoes into large quarters.
- Chop tomatoes and onions into small pieces (any way you like).
- Heat olive oil in Instant pot set to Sauté on Normal.
- Add onion, leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, the fish stock and the rest of the spices and sauté about 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally.
- While waiting, clean the fish. (Leave the shells on the shellfish.)
- Place the fish and shell fish in the instant pot and lock the lid in place. Select Pressure Cook (Manual) and cook for 4 minutes on High Pressure.
- Quick release as soon as the the cooking cycle finishes and stir.
- Remove bay leaves and let bouillabaisse cool for a couple of minutes before serving.
For the Rouille:
- While waiting for the instant pot, crush the garlic, chilli, and saffron together in a mortar with a pestle.
- In a bowl, whisk in the egg yolks and gradually add the olive oil until you make a mayonnaise-like sauce.
- Add in the crushed garlic, chilli, saffron, cayenne pepper and dijon mustard, as you mix and whisk.
- Set aside once the rouille is smooth.
- Serve with bouillabaisse when ready.
The above recipe has been calculated for 6 people. Please adjust quantities based on personal preference.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 583Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 183mgSodium: 314mgCarbohydrates: 50gFiber: 7gSugar: 7gProtein: 61g
Note: We are not certified nutritionists and these estimates are approximate. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. This website is written and produced for informational purposes only.
If you enjoyed that, check out our other classic French recipes that are easy to prepare. Bon appétit and à bientôt !
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