Budget Bouillabaisse!


Though elevated by fine dining establishments now, Bouillabaisse was originally a humble fisherman's stew, that uses whatever was available that day. There's no reason it must cost a fortune. This is my workday version of bouillabaisse, using some easy-to-find, shelf-stable ingredients that may be the opposite of fancy. But I promise it will come out tasting very satisfying.

While doing a little background check on the dish, I learned that an authentic Marseille bouillabaisse supposedly must include rascasse (Mediterranean scorpionfish), and often include congre (European moray eel) and grondin (Atlantic red gurnard). None of which are easily accessible in the US. So this version here is largely based on flavor profiles outlined by Julia Child, "to me the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Proven├žal 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." 

I wanted to love fennel bulbs for years, but to be honest, find its licorice flavor to be quite an acquired taste (and overpowering when I try to use the whole bulb in one dish). Fennel seeds provide a similar flavor to me, and it's a lot easier to adjust the pungency with the seeds. Unless you're already a fan of fennel bulbs and keeps them on your weekly grocery trip, I recommend getting a bottle of fennel seeds from the spice aisle. They're more versatile and last forever. 

Canned and frozen clams are some of my favorite ingredients in soups. They don't sound as exciting and won't photograph as well as the fresh ones in shell, but they're so much easier to deal with. No sand, no cleaning, no taking up fridge space, or stink up the whole fridge if you don't use them fast enough. I'm a big fan of Bumble Bee clams products (both the canned meat & bottled juice) - they make great pasta and chowders too.

For the soup stock, I'm using re-hydrated stock from Better-Than-Bouillon's fish base, which was designed for dishes like bouillabaisse. Their fish base is a lot harder to find than their chicken & vegetable base. I got mine from amazon (https://amzn.to/3m572Dw), which is about ~$10/jar unless you buy in bulk. Pricier than in-store, but one jar makes ~10 quarts, so actually still cheaper than boxed seafood stocks. If you don't want to order them, their lobster base is fairly easy to find in stores, and yields pretty good results too.

I'm using a mix of branzino, rainbow trout, and shrimps, all of which were previously frozen. If you're ever going to shop sales around the seafood section, frozen stuff tend to be the safest best. They tend to be flash frozen soon after caught, and usually not marked down because they're about to go bad. Feel free to shop deals around your grocery and use any mix of seafood you have - snapper or sole would work great here too. 

The rouille is a pretty important part of the dish, and quick to put together so try to not skip it. It's a garlic and saffron flavored mayo, made typically from olive oil and raw egg yolks. As eggs in US are generally not produced for raw consumption, I'm using commercial mayonnaise. You can pasteurize your own eggs or take a chance, but for this dish I honestly think  Hellmann's is pretty good. The garlic and saffron flavors are so strong you won't really notice the subtle difference between fresh made and commercial mayo.


for the soup:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 leek white, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 2~3 slices orange peel
  • 1/2 tsp herbs de provence
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/4 tsp saffron
  • 1 quart seafood broth
  • 1 can clams (~6oz)
  • 6oz branzino fillets
  • 6oz trout fillets
  • 6oz shrimps
  • salt to taste

for the rouille:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/8 tsp saffron
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 tsp hot water
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise


  1. Saute onion and leek with herbs and fennel seeds until softened. 
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, saffron, orange zest, clams, and seafood broth; bring to a boil. Keep the broth simmering and start on the rouille.
  3. Combine garlic, saffron, pepper flakes, and salt. Grind with a mortar and pestle until it's turns into a thick paste. Add hot water, mix until smooth. Add olive oil, stir until fully emulsified. Add mayo.
  4. Poach the fish fillets and shrimps in hot broth until just done; about 4~5min. 
  5. Optional: You can take out the fish and shrimp and blend the soup until smooth, then serve the seafood with the smooth broth, for the restaurant look.
  6. Serve soup with crusty bread & rouille. Enjoy! 

Check out my YouTube channel for step-by-step video!