Recipe by J P Bidart

 Bouillabaisse – A luxurious fish stew that’s easy to make!


Serves 6:

For a simple Bouillabaisse:

  • 20ml olive oil
  • 1kg fish bones with heads (gurnard, red mullet, Sea Bream)
  • 60ml Pernod
  • 200ml white wine
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small leek
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 celery sticks
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 200gm tomato purée
  • Water
  • Salt and black pepper

For a more substantial dish, add a mixture of fish fillets such as: 

Sea Bream or Sea Bass, Red Mullet, Gurnard and/or John Dory together with some steamed mussels and scored squid


Roughly cut all the vegetables to about 1 inch cubes. Sear the vegetables with oil until they reach a nice golden colour, then add the fish bones. If you don’t like the look of the fish with their heads on, chop them off, but increase the weight accordingly.

Sweat for 3 to 4 minutes. Flambé with Pernod and add the white wine. Always use dry white wine.

Pour the saffron, tomato purée, salt, pepper and cover with water, about 3 to 4 inches above the fish. Boil the bouillabaisse for 2 to 3 minutes then lower the heat for 2 hours. Mix with a hand blender and pass through a sieve. Season to taste. All the excess goes into the bin.

You have now made the classic fish stew (bouillabaisse)  to which any mannner of fish can then be added. Some people like it quite liquid but I prefer it to be like a thick soup between the texture of single and double cream and orange in colour. If you find your soup is getting too thick, pour in more water, or better still, fish stock.

Traditional bouillabaisse is made of scorpion fish, congar eel and Sea bream. However, I prefer to add fillets of locally caught fish such as bass, red mullet, gurnard and John Dory together with some steamed mussels and scored squid.

Cut them into  strips that are about 10-12cms long, although you can cut them smaller if you prefer. Make sure the pan is very hot  and then cook them skin down in olive oil for about one minute to a minute and a half. When you see the edges start to go a bit crispy, take the pan off the heat.

Now turn the fish over and leave them to finish. They will cook slowly, but if they have not cooked enough flash them back on the heat. The fish should be very moist in the middle and not over cooked. If anything, slightly under cook as the heat of the soup will carry on cooking them.

Meanwhile in another pan cook the squid scored side down being careful it doesn’t spit.It will start to caramelize then place it under a grill for one minute. Below you will see how to prepare fresh squid.

Place your mussel straight into the soup and they will cook.  It is important that they are very fresh. They will take about two minutes and will open up when they are ready to eat.


How to prepare squid.

Cleaning and preparing squid is much easier than many people think. You can ask your fishmonger to prepare it for you, or have a go yourself.

Place the squid in a clean chopping board. First, cut off the tentacles just below the eyes. Then gently pull the eyes which should come away, bringing the guts and ink sack with them. Remove the ears and the  quill from inside its body, which is like a transparent piece of plastic . Then give it a really good rinse inside and out.

Then cut it in half and open it out like a wallet. Score inside all over the body with a very sharp knife, being careful not to cut right through. This will tenderize it.

Getting the timings right.

You need two frying pans – one for the fish fillets and the other for the squid. The grill should be on and the ready-prepared soup warming through. When it is hot, add the mussels and cook the squid and fish fillets.

Know if your fish is fresh.

Freshness is the most important thing. The body must be shiny and the gills a very vinrant red. The fish must also be very firm when you hold it. You can also ask the fish monger to fillet your fish.

Presentation is everything.

Place the fish soup in bowls and stack the fish in middle. Finish with chopped chilli and serve with rouille, toasted bread croutons and a little grated Gruyère cheese.

Serve with a class of Sancerre of a glass of Albarani – a fresh aromatic white wine prized by the locals in Spain that matches well with fish and seafood.

Any left over bouillabaisse, excluding the fish, can be frozen and re-heated for another day.