Discovering Bouillabaisse: A History Richer Than the Broth Itself (And Two Wonderful Recipes!)
Bouillabaisse, the iconic French fish stew from Marseille, is more than just a culinary delight. It's a journey through history, culture, and passionate debate. We’ll discuss all of that, but we will also serve up some recipes. Because this fish stew (some argue it’s a soup), is delicious. And that’s really all you need to know (so you could just scroll to the bottom for the recipes, but then you’ll miss some intriguing historical tidbits…).

Humble Beginnings

Bouillabaisse should truly be called "fisherman's soup" (or stew), if you look at its beginnings. 

The name "bouillabaisse" itself is derived from two Provençal words: "bolhir" (to boil) and "abaissar" (to simmer). This reflects the method of cooking where the broth is brought to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer, allowing the flavors to meld together beautifully.

Back to the fishermen. Bouillabaisse was originally, created by Marseille's fishermen who used bony rockfish and leftover shellfish they couldn't sell. They would simmer these "leftovers" in a pot together with simple seasonings like garlic and fennel, making the most of what they had. This resourceful approach gave birth to a dish that would eventually become a culinary masterpiece.

Now, of course there's a debate surrounding this, too. Some say the fishermen boiled the unsellable fish in seawater while still at sea. Others say they used any leftover fish together with the unsellable fish at the end of the day and boiled it at home in regular water. 

Truth be told, whatever they did was probably inspired by other recipes. The Phoenicians who founded Marseille in 600 BC, ate a simple fish broth known in Ancient Greek as "kakavia." 

There is also a myth surrounding Bouillabaisse. 

Marseille is a town with a bustling harbor, so they got tradesmen from all over coming for visits, plus the Phoenicians who founded the city eventually ended up under Roman rule. It's therefore no wonder the Marseillaise heard the tale of the Roman goddess Venus cooking a soup to lull her husband Vulcan to sleep, freeing her for a rendezvous with Mars (those gods surely were no saints...). As a result some people decided that the soup was Bouillabaisse, even though this legend likely existed centuries before anyone ever served up a bowl of Bouillabaisse! 

How to Make Bouillabaisse 

This is where the real arguments begin. 

Some say that for the bouillabaisse to be authentic, it needs to include rascasse (scorpionfish), sea robin, and European conger. Without these, many purists argue that it cannot be called a true bouillabaisse.

This came about as restaurants in Marseille started fleecing tourists claiming that more simpler and less flavourful soups (i.e. cheaper ones) were bouillabaisse and, as a result, some chefs got together to create a "charter" for bouillabaisse. 

Julia Child, who lived in Marseille for a while, said, "To me the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Provençal soup base—garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel—and, of course, the fish—lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish."

Some argue it should not contain fennel, some say it shouldn't contain orange peel, others argue the validity of adding potatoes...or not doing so. Even tomatoes are a debated addition. 

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that bouillabaisse contains saffron and garlic. 

A lot of people say that "true" bouillabaisse needs to be made the traditional way---adding fish heads and bones to get the right depth of flavor (and then removing them and straining the soup)---but these days many people simply use fish stock. 

And as Michael Raffael wrote for the National Geographic, "But in truth, what mustn't go in the pot is perhaps even more relevant as what must: oily fish like sardines, sprats, mackerel, tuna and salmon are all definite no-nos." 

How to Serve Bouillabaisse 

Traditionally, bouillabaisse is strained and the soup is eaten first, followed by the fish. 

The soup is eaten accompanied by bread (again, what bread is, of course debated---should it just be old and dry, toasted, or fresh? Most agree on fresh) smeared with rouille.

Rouille means "rust" and it's made in a similar fashion to mayo, but with added garlic, saffron, and cayenne pepper and/or roasted pepper. Most recipes also call for breadcrumbs. 

Feeling lazy? Just add saffron and cayenne pepper to ready-made aioli....or stick with just the aioli!

Now, onto the recipes. The first one by Julia Child is a bit more complicated, while the second, while still containing all the traditional flavors, is easier to put together!

Julia Child's Bouillabaisse 

You can't go wrong with a Julia Child recipe, can you? The woman who taught America to cook like the French and who was so plain spoken and direct anyone thought themselves able to cook...and therefore did!

That said, as mentioned above, this recipe is pretty "involved" so see below for a recipe that's easy as pie, but still utterly delicious. 


- 1 cup minced onions
- 3/4 cup of minced leek, or 1/2 cup more onions
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 cloves mashed garlic
- 1 lb of ripe, red tomatoes roughly chopped, or 1 1/2 cups drained canned tomatoes or 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 2 1/2 quarts water
- 6 parsley springs
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp thyme or basil
- 1/2 tsp fennel
- 2 big pinches of saffron
- A 2-inch piece or 1/2 tsp dried orange peel
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 Tb salt (none if clam juice or fish broth is used)
- 3 to 4 pounds fish heads, bones, and trimmings, or 1-quart clam juice, 1 1/2 quarts of water, and no salt (Swedishness suggestion: if you don't happen to have this on hand, use fish broth or "fiskbuljong" just remember to omit salt from the recipe if you use clam juice or fish broth)
- 6 to 8 pounds assorted lean fish, and shellfish if you wish


- Cook the onions and leeks slowly in olive oil for 5 minutes or until almost tender but not browned.
- Stir in the garlic and tomatoes. Raise heat to moderate and cook 5 minutes more.
- Add the water, herbs, seasonings, and fish heads, bones, and trimmings to the kettle (or clam juice) and cook uncovered at a moderate boil for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Strain the soup into the saucepan, pressing juices out of ingredients. Correct seasoning, adding a bit more saffron if you feel it necessary.
- You should have 2 1/2 quarts of in a higher, rather narrow kettle.
- Bring the soup to a rapid boil 20 minutes before serving. Add lobsters, crabs, and firm-fleshed fish. Bring quickly back to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Add the tender-fleshed fish, the clams, mussels, and scallops. Bring rapidly to the boil again and boil 5 minutes more or until the fish are just tender when pierced with a fork. Do not overcook.
- Immediately lift out the fish and arrange on the platter. Correct seasoning, and pour the soup into the tureen over rounds of French bread. Spoon a ladleful of soup over the fish, and sprinkle parsley over both fish and soup. Serve immediately accompanied by the optional rouille.


To prepare the fish for cooking, have them cleaned and scaled. Discard the gills. Save heads and trimmings for fish stock. Cut large fish into crosswise slices 2 inches wide. Scrub clams. Scrub and soak the mussels. Wash scallops. If using live crab or lobster, split them just before cooking. remove the sand sack and intestinal tube from lobsters.

Simple Bouillabaisse
By the end of the day, what a good bouillabaisse comes down to is great ingredients. We sell fish and shellfish directly from Göteborgs fiskmarknad so we know a thing or two about fresh seafood! And what you need to make any recipe a success is fresh ingredients. 

This recipe might be simple, but it's also delicious. The original recipe can be found here. 


- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 fennel bulb, (trimmed and chopped)
- ¾ cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced carrots
- 1 cup diced red potatoes
- 4 garlic cloves, (minced)
- 2½ cups diced fresh tomatoes, (peeled)
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- 3 thyme sprigs
- 4 cups fish or seafood stock
- 1¼ pounds chopped boneless fish (such as cod, halibut, red snapper, or sea bass), cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2-3 small lobster tails , (about 4 oz each, halved)
- 15 shrimp
- ¾ pound clams
- ½ pound mussels
- 6 sea scallops

Swedishness Note: You don't need to use all the different kinds of shellfish. As Julia Child said, "and shellfish, if you wish." 

- In a large dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion, celery, carrot, potato, fennel for 8 minutes.
- Add garlic, chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, and saffron. Cook and keep stirring for 8 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a moderate boil until it is thickened a bit and until the potatoes are almost tender.
- Add the fish then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Add shellfish, simmer gently, uncovered, for about 5 minutes or longer until they are fully cooked. Adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper if needed.

Swedishness Note

Either strain and serve the soup first with bread and rouille (see below for a recipe) followed by the fish, or simply dish up and serve. Even if you serve it all together, you can still serve it with bread and rouille! A fresh French style bread (crusty with a lovely soft interior) will do nicely, as would a nice sourdough. Also, a lot of people these days simply serve it with aioli!


Here's the deal, you can keep things simple and serve with aioli instead of rouille. Or you can cheat and add a pinch of saffron and cayenne pepper to aioli (or garlic, saffron, and cayenne to mayo). 

There are as many recipes for rouille as there are for bouillabaisse (well, almost...) but we found this by Anthony Bourdain. We figured his must, at the very least, taste nice. Whether it's "true" rouille or not we let the experts debate. 


- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- 1/2 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and seeded (can buy jarred)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Small pinch of saffron threads
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt
- Pepper


In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic, red pepper, egg yolk, lemon juice, and saffron. Pulse until smooth, then slowly drizzle in the oil and process continuously until the mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and use immediately.

Get Sustainably Harvested Fish Straight from Sweden

If you want some of the best ingredients and flavors, you can buy seafood straight from Göteborgs fiskmarknad with Swedishness---get sustainably harvested fish shipped directly from Sweden! We offset the carbon dioxide from the transport to ensure it's truly sustainable. 

The seafood has been "fresh frozen" retaining its flavor and freshness by being frozen immediately. This way, a lot of food waste is also prevented as you can use it when you need it and don't have to throw it away if you don't have time to cook it right away. 

For bouillabaisse, we offer shrimp, mussels, clams (Japanese), lobster (Scottish), king crab, cod and monk fish. 

We also have a delicious aioli, and fish broth (fiskbuljong). Before you know it, your bouillabaisse will be ready and on the table and all you have to do is tuck in!