Happy Bouillabaisse Day

Since it’s Bouillabaisse Day, I thought I’d collect a few thoughts on this classic of the French culinary landscape.


I don’t know why people say “seafood bouillabaisse” since, by definition, bouillabaisse is a fish stew. They are very likely the same people who say “1:00 am in the morning.” AM means morning, people. In the dictionary under redundant, it says “see redundant”. But I digress.

As a child, I understood the process to be that you take all the fishy and shellfish-y bits and pieces you’ve got on hand, toss them together into furiously boiling water, stock, clam sauce and veggies, spice to taste and leave to simmer. Easy. But apparently, the construction of “authentic bouillabaisse” is a subject open to wide (and often heated) debate.

  • Do you use five different fish or seven?
  • Which fish – all white fish? Some white, some oily? How much cod, snapper, flounder, halibut, sea bass, monk fish?
  • Wine or no?
  • Are potatoes the secret to bouillabaisse success or culinary heresy?
  • Can you serve it to fewer than 8 people?

As far as I am concerned, recipes are evolutionary, changeable, fluid and almost never the same twice – with the exception of baking which is a bit more of a science. So if you find yourself thinking, “Gosh, I’d like to make bouillabaisse but I’m just not sure I can handle all the pressure” – worry not. Just grab your largest pot, any fish you fancy, some onions and the like, set it to cooking and call your friends.  Here are some recipes to inspire and guide you but remember – it’s YOUR bouillabaisse. Make it the way YOU want.

Or just punch the word bouillabaisse into your favorite search engine and wade right in.

In an attempt to impose order (or just their opinion) on the topic, a group of chefs drew up The Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter (Marseilles being where the dish is said to have first appeared as we know it today). Seems a bit slapdash upon perusal. Far more interesting was the history of bouillabaisse from Clifford Wright. In fact, his food history section is very interesting in general.

So, Happy National Bouillabaisse Day to one and all.

P.S.: Don’t tell anyone but I actually prefer gumbo.

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