BOUILLABAISSE – a cooking class in Marseille

This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is – A sort of soup or broth, or brew, Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes, That Greenwich never could outdo; Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffron, Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dace; All these you eat at Terre’s tavern, In that one dish of Bouillabaisse. — William Makepeace Thackeray

Hi there,

You may remember my previous post about the celebration of the summer solstice in Provence. While in Provence, we took a side trip to Marsielle to take a cooking class.

We were to learn to make Bouillabaisse in the style of Marseille. This was to be no ordinary cooking class. Upon arrival we met our teacher who told us we would do all the shopping with him before going to his atelier to prepare our meal.

The first stop was the fish market. What an amazing sight that was. The fish were right off the boat and sold by the fisherman. There were many different varieties of fish but we were on the hunt for the very specific fish that were called for in the recipe.

I have to admit being more than a bit overwhelmed by these fish.

The next stop was the green grocer to purchase the vegetables that were needed for the meal. After that we went to a place that is this side of heaven, a French boulangerie and then off to buy the all important vin.

We felt very French as we took all our purchases back to our host’s apartment and divided up into teams.

This is one team who seem a little daunted about preparing those fish.

All the preparation, the cooking and the serving were done outside on a beautiful patio that overlooked the city.

The whole afternoon was about as far away from my everyday life as possible and one I will remember forever.



For the Fish soup

  • 2Kg of small skinned fish such as bream, bass, haddock, mullet or gurnard (Mediterranean rock fish)
  • 1Kg of fish trimmings and bones, including heads,
  • 2 leeks and 1 onion
  • 2 big ripped tomatoes and concentrated tomato paste
  • 4 garlic cloves, saffron, dried fennel branches, 2 dried bay leaves, salt, pepper, olive oil
    For the Rouille Sauce
  • 300ml of oil (1/2 olive oil & ½ sunflower oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tea spoon of mustard
  • ½ lemon juice
  • 1 dose of saffron and some Paprika

For the Bouillabaisse

  • Go for 400 to 500gr per persons for the bigger fish. Fish with a rather harder meat : Red Rascasse fish, Sea Robin, capon fish, weever , Monkfish, European conger,… Fish with a rather tender meat : roucaou, sea bass, Gilt head bream, St Peter (John dory), whiting ,… Buy different types of fish of a similar size . . . Have the fish washed, scaled and emptied.
  • 2 onions & 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 medium size potatoes per person
  • 2 ripped tomatoes
  • 2 saffron doses, branches of dried fennel, 2 dried bay leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper and a drop of pastis


Preparation for the soup: Clean & cut the leeks and the onions and brown them in a warm cooking pot on a high fire along with 4 table spoon worth of olive oil. Add the roughly cutted tomatoes, the bay leaves, fennel branches, crushed garlic, 4 table spoon worth of tomatoes concentrated paste. After about 5 minutes stirring, add the small fish, the trimmings, bones and heads. Keep stirring above a high fire for 5 minutes add salt and pepper. Add 2 liters of hot water and a dose of saffron. Once it is boiling, turn the fire to low-medium for an extra 15 minutes. Then let it cool down. After a while, take out all the bones, heads, branches and mix all the rest. Filter the obtained mixture to only keep the liquid. That’s your soup. To do so, fill your strainer, stir and press the mixture using a pestle. Empty your strainer from the more solid parts, and repeat.
Preparation for the rouille sauce : In a mortar or a bowl, add the yolk of an egg (kept at the ambient temperature), salt and a tea spoon worth of mustard. Mix it all, and add the oil pouring very slowly while always keeping on stirring with a fork or a whisk. Before you end pouring the oil, add the lemon juice, the crushed garlic, saffron, paprika and pepper. Before reserving in the fridge, taste and add ingredients to your flavor.
Preparation of the Bouillabaisse : In a large cooking pot (large enough to have all of your bigger fishes laying flat), spread successively the following ingredients laying flat. First the thinly sliced onions and the crushed garlic with olive oil, then the potatoes sliced ½ cm (1/5 of an inch), fennel branches, bay leaves, the peeled and thinly sliced tomatoes, saffron and pastis. Add salt & pepper. Lay the hard meat fish only. Put on a high fire, and leave it on 5 to 10 minutes simmering without stirring but lightly shaking you pot to avoid the onions to burn. Pour the re-heated soup to cover the fish. If there is not enough add a little water. The timing for cooking is now crucial. When the soup in the pot is boiling, lower your fire to medium (to a light boiling) and count 5 minutes. Then add the tender meat fish (they have to lay under the soup as well) for another 5 minutes. Stop your fire and check if your fish is cooked (white to the bone). If not, put it back in the warm soup for a few extra minutes. Take the fillets out of the ones that are cooked. Once all the fish are out, kept in a warm spot, take out the potatoes slices and filter the soup through a strainer to recuperate the soup only. On your guest’s table set the soup, the fish with potatoes and the Rouille. Some will prefer starting with the soup, adding garlic croutons topped with rouille & grated cheese ; and finish with the fish.

Special Note: A Bouillabaisse, to be served in perfect conditions, should be prepared for at least a party of 6 to 7. This allows to purchase a wider variety of fish. Another thing, fishing not being a precise science, you will have to be perseverant to find all the different types of fresh Mediterranean fish. If you are far from the Mediterranean, use your local white meat fish. The recipe proposed here, consists in poaching the bigger fish into the small fish soup. It is the luxury version of the recipe, as it differs from the original fishermen’s who were simply recuperating the damaged and unsold parts. Ideally with a Bouillabaisse serve a Bandol Rosé wine like Château de Pibarnon.

Talk soon, ❤️💕 Bernadette

31 responses to “BOUILLABAISSE – a cooking class in Marseille”

  1. This brings back memories! Many years ago we had a holiday on a campsite, hidden between trees just across a small road by the beach, midway between Bandol and Sanary. We ate out several times in Bandol, and once we had bouillabaisse. The waiter recommended one of the local wines, and it was a rosé. I wonder if it was the same one…

    • The chef/instructor said any kind of meatly fish work in the recipe. Let me know if your borther makes it. I would be curious to read his substiutions. Have a great weekend Angie.

  2. 💜 Sounds like a SupaSpecial Chowder EveryOne; drooling like Homer Simpson EveryBody 🤣


  3. It is something I would love to eat, but I would never try to cook something that requires so much time and preparation. I am a simple plain cook. It sounds scrumptious and would love to try it sometime, maybe I will get to go to a wonderful restaurant in the distant future (Covid) and can order it.

  4. When we were in Marseille, we thought we’d have bouillabaisse, so we set out to find a restaurant selling it. We came across one and asked if they served it. We were told, ‘That’s just for the tourists. But if you insist, you need to go down to the harbour.’ We decided to eat here and had a delicious meal.
    The harbour was crowded, and, yes, bouillabaisse was being served, but at a ridiculous price. We were glad we’d eaten at the earlier restaurant.

  5. What a totally cool experience, Bernadette! A cultural immersion in cuisine. I can’t imagine many things that would be more fun for someone who loves to cook. I hope you get to take more international cooking classes… in the recipe’s host country! <3

  6. Now why didn’t I know you last winter, Bernadette? I did my own version of Bouillabaisse. It’s my husband’s favourite meal that he ordered when restaurants were open. Didn’t taste too bad, but not the genuine thing. 👍

      • Ive been cooking and experimenting for fifty years so it wasn’t too bad an outcome. But I didn’t know about rouille, didn’t realise till I prepared it that I should have asked for firmer fish, didn’t fry the veg and didn’t know about the herbs. I have a lovely fishmonger who gave me fresh fish, and most importantly, scooped the eyes out of the head. 🤭
        Thanks to you, I have copied your recipe and pasted it into my Pages for next winter.😘

Any comments or suggestions are appreciated. If you like this recipe, please give it to your friends.

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