Bouillibaisse - the traditional dish from Marseille

We're over a week into Lent and already thinking about our Good Friday menu! A delicious traditional bouillabaisse is a lovely dish to share with friends and family this Good Friday, but what exactly is bouillabaisse and where did it come from?


Bouillabaisse is a delicious traditional French fish stew that was originally created in the port city of Marseille. The word “bouillabaisse” comes from the Provençal word bolhabaissa. The root words within bolhabaissa reveal the two main steps in creating the stew. The Provençal words bolhir and albaissar mean “to boil” and “to reduce,” respectively.

Ancient Greeks

Although bouillabaisse is generally considered to be a traditional Provençal dish, its history extends all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. It was, in fact, the Ancient Greeks who founded Marseille over two and a half millennia ago. At this time in history, a staple Greek food was a simple fish stew called kakavia. Bouillabaisse has such a long history that it even appears in Roman mythology. According to these ancient tales, the Goddess Venus fed bouillabaisse to Vulcan. The stew lulled Vulcan to sleep and Venus went off to meet with Mars.

Fish Dish

Bouillabaisse is an aromatic stew made with a fish base and a variety of fish and shellfish. In classic bouillabaisse, nearly a dozen kinds of fish are cooked into the stew. The most common fish in bouillabaisse are monkfish, mullet, and conger. Of course, many other kinds of fish can be incorporated. Bouillabaisse gains rich flavour from vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, leeks, and celery, which are boiled and added to the stew. But it is the blend of herbs and spices that gives bouillabaisse its wonderful aromatic quality. Garlic, bay leaf, fennel, orange peel, saffron, and bay leaf all compliment the flavours in bouillabaisse beautifully.

Seafood Bouillabaisse Recipe

Recipe by Zoe Bingley-Pullin

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 1 cup fennel, chopped finely
  • 2 x 400g can organic tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large orange, zested
  • 200g scallops
  • 500g fresh green prawns, peeled and de-veined
  • 500g salmon
  • 1-1.5L warm water
  • 1 pinch saffron threads


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and add the onions, leeks, fennel, chopped tomatoes, and garlic. Cook and stir over a low heat for a few minutes until all the vegetables are soft.

Stir in the thyme, bay leaf, and orange zest, then add the scallops, prawns and the warm water, and stir. Season to taste with black pepper. Turn up the heat to high, and boil for about 3 minutes to allow the oil and water to combine.

Add the fish and reduce the heat to medium. Continue cooking for 12 to 15 minutes or until fish is cooked. The fish should be opaque and tender, but still firm. Fish should not be falling apart.

Taste the bouillabaisse and adjust the seasoning. Stir in saffron, and then pour soup into a warmed soup dishes. Serve immediately.

Tip: fresh mussels also make a nice addition to this dish and salmon can be replaced with firm-white fish fillets.

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