julia child’s bouillabaisse recipe


I’m caught up in Julia Child fever {so much so that I’ve started a new blog – visit Dinner with Julia and follow me as I dive into Julia’s recipes}; the movie Julie & Julia is opening this weekend and I’m not ashamed to say that I will be standing in line for a ticket. I’ve read that Meryl Streep has captured the best of what we love about Julia, from her warbly, exuberant voice to her healthy physical lust for her husband.

Thinking about my Julia Child moment had me plucking my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the shelf for a little sit-down time. I wanted to make a recipe from the book, but I had trouble conjuring that spark of hunger that usually makes me rush to the kitchen to cook.

Is it because some of the recipes in Mastering are stuck in a bit of a time warp?

Browsing through the book, I see recipes that speak to another time, a time before crème fraîche became a staple in the grocery store and we knew not to cook a piece of pork to within an inch of its life: cold chicken aspic decorated with slivers of canned pimiento, veal Prince Orloff and crepes filled with boiled, canned pineapple.  In my mind I draw a caricature of the 1960’s American housewife that Julia was writing for – a perfectly coiffed woman about to throw a dinner party in her sprawling suburban ranch house, wearing a bullet bra, Jackie O skirt suit and smoking a long cigarette, like a character from the television show Mad Men.

But in between the thick, cream-colored pages of Julia’s tome are a multitude of other classic recipes and techniques that will never go out of style or fail to please – her precise directions for making homemade mayonnaise, perfect rolled omelets and puffy souffles are what make Mastering the Art of French Cooking stand alone on the cookbook shelf.

I chose to make the bouillabaisse (page 52) the other day, along with a rouille sauce to smear on crusty toasted bread.

Bouillabaisse is a Provençal fish soup, and Julia stresses the importance of keeping it simple; the broth is fortified with lots of seafood shells and trimmings (available for less than a dollar a pound at your fish counter) and flavored with the typical flavors of the region: garlic, saffron, olive oil and tomatoes.

The soup was outstanding and I like how it had something for everyone at my table (picky children among them)  – delicious broth, different kinds of fish and seafood, and a big hunk of bread to soak up every drop in the bowl.

The simplicity and authentic taste of this recipe is what Julia Child is all about to me. It also defines how I love to cook.

Julia says it best:

This is the kind of food I had fallen in love with: not trendy, souped-up fantasies, just something very good to eat….the ingredients have been carefully selected and beautifully and knowingly prepared. Or, in the words of the famous gastronome Curnonsky, “Food that tastes of what it is”. (from My Life in France)

Here’s to you, Julia!

Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse Recipe

Serving Size: Serves a table of 6

Serve the bouillabaisse with toasted bread and rouille on the side.


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup each chopped onion and leek
  • 4 cloves mashed garlic
  • 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 quarts water
  • Fresh herb sprigs: thyme, parsley, fennel fronds and basil (in any combination)
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 3 - 4 pounds fish heads, bones, trimmings, shrimp shells
  • 1 1/2 pounds each peeled shrimp (use the shells for the stock); wild cod, halibut and/or sole cut into chunks, and debearded, scrubbed mussels or clams
  • Toasted rustic bread
  • For the Rouille:
  • 1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper
  • 1 roasted hot red chile pepper or ground cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small peeled garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs or finely chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • Fine sea salt, about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil


    For the soup:
  1. Heat the oil in a tall pot (I used an 8 quart stockpot) over medium heat; add the onion and leek and cook gently until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, water, herbs, saffron, salt and fish bones. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that the broth bubbles slowly without boiling.
  2. Cook 30 minutes, then strain the broth into a large bowl or another pot and discard the solids.
  3. Pour the broth back into the stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, a minute or two. Add the rest of the fish and shellfish, cover and simmer until the mussels or clams open. Taste the soup and add more salt and freshly ground pepper if needed.
  4. For the Rouille:
  5. Puree everything except for the olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil while processing to form a paste.


  1. Oh yummy! I always thought that Bouillabaisse took days! It did save my life from the worst cold I have ever had when I was in the south of France, but they made such a 2 course production out of it. I haven’t paged through MTAFC in ages. Think I’ll give it a go. Thanks for the great idea.

  2. Yummy indeed.

    Purely as an academic exercise, how would you describe your lust for your husband?


  3. What a beautiful post, and a beautiful dish!

  4. Ivy, I know, for some reason I felt the same about bouillabaisse but it really is fairly simple. Have fun reading!

    Tony, I would say healthily lusty! He’s no vegan though.

    Thanks, Laura. Julia will never fail to inspire.

  5. Only thing missing is order of fish. Shellfish first eh

  6. when i made it this weekend, i left the seafood in and served the whole thing in big bowls, croutons smeared with rouille floating on top. i put in a large box of chopped tomatoes instead of the fresh, which i think made it more tomato-y, but it was delicious (and lasted for several days after in the fridge).

  7. How many people does it serve?

  8. bob cynamon says:

    Karen,many years ago,I part of a food group, we met and cooked monthly,and one month for french night I was assigned soup, so of course I made french onion. I bought Mastering the art of, and followed her recipe to a T it was the hit of the night. Over he years ,even though I consider myself a pretty good cook,I have never changed, or added, to any of her recipes. but I have done so to many other chefs recipes. hers were, and are perfect…Enjoy Bob C.

  9. Karen,

    Ah a simple to make Bouillabaisse recipe. It’s amzing how simple this seems to make compared to others I have seen.

    Thanks for sharing

  10. Sharon Rose says:

    It is nicely simplified, but really…bouillabaisse must have potatoes, and i think Escoffier agrees with me. And Ms Childs herself recommends the zest of one orange, but i don’t see that here. Check out a fine article:http://www.isaacmizrahiny.com/style_lab/articles/198/bouillabaisse

    The most work for the recipe above is getting the sand out of the leeks! How seafaring.

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  12. I cooked off some ORZO pasta and put some in the bottom of my bowl, then added the ladled soup overtop of the orzo. I loved it. It makes the soup a little more hearty. You could put as little or as much orzo in your bowl with the soup.

    Everyone loved it and keep asking me when I’m making it again.

    I am having a small gathering of friends and family over for Memorial Day and I’m planning to make it for them.

  13. I haven’t tried this but I have made at least 6 of her recpies so far, this will be on my list as soon as I can afford all the sea food that goes in it. but it does sound good. I’m even tempted to do her second book MTAOFC book 2 in a year and see what happens..lol But I think a mob would show up at my door screaming ‘copy cat’..lol so I won’t, plus I don’t own the cookbook.:)

    Even though I still think it would be fun.

  14. I made your recipe two Saturdays ago, because I came across it while doing a web search for Julia’s bouillabaisse recipe. I followed it to the letter, but I was disappointed with the results. I felt that the soup did not have much flavor to it.

    In any case, I saved the stock and froze it. The next Saturday, I found my copy of Julia Child’s book at my mother’s house, and followed her recipes. The results were amazing! I served up the dish with scallops, clams, shrimp, and mahi mahi, although the soup stock was made with sea bass from the previous weekend.

    What a difference! The croutons were great, the rouille was perfect, and the bouillabaisse was amazing! I served the dish at a “Top Chef” dinner party and won top honors. 🙂

    Lesson learned: Go to the source…Julia’s hints and commentary, really do help!

  15. Ever since I got back from N-Cal and had an amazing seafood stew there, I have been craving this. My son wants me to cook him some stew tonight, I am going to try this today! Sounds great! Any idea what kind of bread I should use to dip?

  16. I was looking for a good bouillabaisse recipe for dinner tonight and found this great post. I can’t wait to try this one out with my family. Thanks for sharing this great post

  17. I looked at a lot of recipes and kept coming back to this one. I made it for friends last night and we loved it. Because I cannot leave a recipe alone, I tweaked it a bit for our personl likes..more tomato and white wine. But I think that is the beauty of this recipe. You can really personalize it from the great basic recipe. Thanks for the recipe!

  18. Well, I knocked that one out of the park! I used fish stock and white wine in this dish and the family LOVED it! Quite a meal indeed. It’s in the top three now as future meals to make again… soon.

  19. Itay Arad says:

    Great recipe! Had fun cooking it with Zoe my 9 year old girl.
    We replaced half of the water with clam juice, which made the broth a bit more sweet and fishy. Loved the Rouille!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  20. I抎 have to verify with you here. Which is not one thing I often do! I take pleasure in reading a publish that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

  21. I made this this week and the best part was the soup – and a loaf of good crusty Italian bread to soak it all up. I did use canned whole tomato, rather than the bland grocery store offerings.

    Bo appetite!

  22. Damian O'Donnell says:

    Pure gold, this recipe is pure gold, made it this evening and was roundly praised for it. My wife and a few of her friends spent the weekend at an exhibition in the country. On their return had this wondrous soup ready and waiting. It was not too heavy and was just light enough without been watery. As I said in my opening pure gold. Karen thank you for posting this it most enjoyable.

  23. I found your website after reading a story on NPR and googling bouillabaisse. I had an “a hah” moment when I realized that bouillabaisse was what we had after a fishing adventure in Alaska. We caught fish in the morning and then went to a small island where our fish was made into this incredible stew. One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had!

  24. Bon Jour Karen,
    I just had my husband paint and redecorate my kitchen to reflect Provence. He has a Saturday class today,working toward his Master’s. I orderd the ingredients from Fresh Direct, but this gives me a chance to prepare. Tomorrow is his 40th birthday. He’ll have a Blissage this evening, while I put our 3 children to bed. Upon his return, Julia’s Bouillabaisesse will be ready to celebrate his birthday Provence style. I will pair it with Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc. I am a Sommelier and the right wine adds so much to the overall experience. You look so happy and at ease in your photo…that’s the experience I’m looking for tonight! A votre sante!

    • Caterina – how wonderful! You’re treating your husband to a very special day, and I’m pleased you shared your plans for dinner to include the Bouillabaisse. I wish it were my birthday 😉
      Bon appetit!

  25. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on bouillabaisse. Regards

  26. David milroy says:

    I lived in Marseille for two years and have gone back with friends several times. Each time we go to one of the many Vieux Port restaurants and indulge in a delicious garlic/fish bouillabaisse..to die for!
    Sadly..I have gone to several restaurants in California where it is on the menu..or a special item..and it turns out to be a tomato based flavorless watery broth with some “cooked” seafood..not delicious and tasty..just “cooked”…I am used to wanting to lick thew bowl…this stuff is just shell-fish in veggie water. What’s up with that? It resembles a bad cioppino (lots of tomato)..but is nothing like the garlic fish dream of Marseille. Do you know of any good places? Merci!!

  27. pamela shultz says:

    addesd the juice of 1 orange and the zest and 1 cup of white wine and uses fennel 1 cup and used it for garnish.Many recipes called for the orange and fennel.

  28. Hi there Julia,

    I was thinking of serving a bouillabaisse in a market store. I would have all the stock pre-prepared and kept warm in something like a bains-marie. At the last moment I would bring the stock up to the boil and add the fish so serving time would be about 5 – 10 mins. Can you think of any problems with this idea?


  29. I made the Bouillabaisse the broth game out ok what can I do now to add more flavorthink I use to much water need help

  30. Jane Kutzy says:

    I have a question? How do I get my hands on fish heads and bones? Can. I actually buy those
    left over portions from my fish monger? I am going to make my bouillabaisse with only
    the shell fish. Shrimp, clams and mussels, so I won’t be buying any whole fish.

    • Hi Jane – if you can’t get bones at your fish store, you can make the stock with just the shrimp shells and a bottle of clam juice instead (along with the water).


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