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Bouillabaisse is a typical fish stew or soup from the Provencal port of Marseilles. The term has been derived from the Occitan word ‘bolhabaissa’ of Provence which is a compound of two distinct words meaning to boil and simmer.

The bouillabaisse recipe allows for different ingredient especially various types of fishes as well as a variety of sea food to be cooked together which is then lightly seasoned with herbs and spices. Orange peels, garlic, bay leaves, fennels and saffron lend the bouillabaisse it’s unique flavor with a minimum of three different kinds of fishes going into the stew.

Scorpion fish, European congar and sea robin are the favorites with turbot, monk fish, silver hake and mullet being added to the traditional bouillabaisse as well. The bouillabaisse recipe also recommends using other kinds of sea food and sea urchins, a variety of crabs and octopuses are often added to the fish stew as a result. The more expensive form of bouillabaisse may also contain the Norway prawn known as the langoustine.

A host of vegetables including potatoes, onions, tomatoes, celery and leeks are served with the fish broth. The assortment of spices makes the bouillabaisse recipe of Marseilles unique. The method of serving of the fish stew is also quite different in the region as is the use of small and bony Mediterranean Sea fishes available locally.

History Of Bouillabaisse Recipe

Ancient legend attributes the bouillabaisse to the Greek who founded the port of Marseilles in 600 B.C. The Roman mythology also mentions a similar food, a special kind of dish fed by Venus to Vulcan.

The culinary history, however, traces the bouillabaisse to the poor fishermen of Marseilles who prepared a stew out of the bony rockfishes and other kinds of sea foods in order to appease their hunger. The original dish is believed to have been cooked with sea water and simmered over a wood fire. Tomatoes were introduced to the recipe in the 17th century after it became commonplace.

The upper class bourgeois adopted the stew in the 19th century and altered the recipe slightly by adding saffron to it. Fish stock also began to be used around that time instead of sea water.

Ingredients And The Traditional Bouillabaisse Recipe

A variety of fishes along with other kinds of sea foods form the main ingredients of the Marseilles bouillabaisse. Potatoes, tomatoes and onions along with a number of diverse spices like the fennel, cayenne pepper, saffron, garlic as well as a bouquet garni are used to spice up the stew.

All the ingredients are fried in olive oil for a few minutes until nicely browned then cooked over high heat with fish stock added to it. The soft fishes are added later on with the hot stew being served over rouille along with garlic bread. The fish and the potatoes are usually served separately.

Some exotic variations of the bouillabaisse make use of orange peels and white wine as well.

Variations Of Bouillabaisse

Dishes similar to the bouillabaisse are found in almost all countries of the Mediterranean region. Some of the most interesting variations are:-

  • Portugal- Caldeirada is a fish stew with different seasonings.

  • Spain- Sopa de pescado y marisco and suquet de peix are also fish stews that make use of the same ingredients.

  • Italy- Zuppa di pesce is a fish soup.


  • December 14th is celebrated as the National Bouillabaisse Day in America.