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Julia Child’s Classic French Bouillabaisse Recipe

4.75 from 40 votes

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Julia Child’s classic bouillabaisse recipe for Provencal fish soup in tomato saffron broth, with roasted red pepper rouille.

Julia Child's Bouillabaisse Recipe: Provencal seafood soup with rouille

Aside from making her bouillabaisse recipe, it’s easy to get caught up in all things Julia Child.

When the movie Julie & Julia first came out years ago, Meryl Streep captured the best of what we love about Julia.

Everything from her warbly, exuberant voice to her healthy physical lust for her husband.

Thinking about Julia Child 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 the book are stuck in a bit of a time warp?

Julia Child's Bouillabaisse Recipe: Provencal Seafood Soup

Julia Child’s bouillabaisse: a classic recipe for French seafood soup.

Browsing through the book, you’ll find recipes that speak to another time, before ingredients like crème fraîche became a staple in the grocery store.

Things like chicken aspic decorated with slivers of jarred pimiento and crepes filled with boiled, canned pineapple.

Based on those kinds of recipes, you can draw a picture of the 1960’s American housewife that Julia was writing for.

Imagine a perfectly coiffed woman about to throw a dinner party in her sprawling suburban home, wearing a bullet bra, Jackie O Chanel suit and smoking a long cigarette, like a character from the television show Mad Men.

Julia’s 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.

But in between the 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.

A perfect example is Julia’s version of a traditional bouillabaisse recipe.

Julia Child's Bouillabaisse Recipe

What is bouillabaisse made of?

Bouillabaisse is a Provençal fish soup with a tomato base.

While there’s no strict formula, this hearty seafood soup can contain a wide variety of different types of seafood and shellfish.

  • Mussels
  • Clams
  • Shrimp
  • Flaky white fish, such as cod, snapper, haddock or grouper

Overall, Julia Child stresses the importance of making simple bouillabaisse.

Julia Child's Bouillabaisse

How to make bouillabaisse:

  1. Make a broth, fortified with lots of seafood shells and trimmings (available for a few dollars a pound at your fish counter).
  2. Add aromatics seasonings, including the typical ingredients of Provencal France: Garlic, saffron, olive oil and tomatoes.
  3. Simmer the broth for about 30 minutes before adding the shellfish and seafood, which will cook in a matter of minutes.

What to serve with bouillabaisse:

This seafood soup is outstanding as a meal all on its own. Or, serve it along with this crunchy Fresh Fennel Salad for a perfect pairing.

The best thing about bouillabaisse is there’s something in the pot for everyone at the table (picky children among them): delicious broth and different kinds of fish and seafood to choose from.

Honestly, all you really need to serve with bouillabaisse is plenty of crusty bread to soak up every drop in the bowl.

Don’t forget the zesty, roasted red pepper rouille sauce you can smear on the toasted bread — it’s so delicious!

Tips and make-ahead

  • For a heartier soup, serve over cooked broken vermicelli, orzo or other small pasta shape.
  • The broth can be prepared up to a day in advance. Store in the refrigerator and bring to a simmer. Add the seafood and cook as in Step 3.

More Julia Child-inspired recipes:

Simplicity and authentic taste is what Julia Child’s bouillabaisse recipe is all about. 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)

Julia Child's Bouillabaisse Recipe

Julia Child’s Classic French Bouillabaisse

Karen Tedesco
A simple recipe for Julia Child’s bouillabaisse, the classic French seafood soup. The delicious soup with a simple rouille is full of shellfish, seafood and fragrant tomatoes and can be made in less than an hour.
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4.75 from 40 votes
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
Course Seafood
Cuisine French
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (118 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup (150 g) chopped onion
  • 1 cup (89 g) chopped leek
  • 4 cloves smashed garlic
  • 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped or 2 cups canned
  • 2 ½ quarts (2.5 l) water
  • Fresh herb sprigs: thyme, parsley, fennel fronds and basil (in any combination)
  • 1 2-inch wide strip of fresh orange peel (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon crumbled saffron
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 3 – 4 pounds (2 kg) fish heads, bones, trimmings, shrimp shells
  • 1 pound (450 g) peeled shrimp (save the shells for the stock)
  • 1 pound (450 g) cod, halibut or other flaky white fish, cut into large chunks
  • 1 pound (450 g) mussels or clams, scrubbed and mussels debearded
  • Crusty bread, sliced, for serving
Rouille
  • 1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper
  • 1 roasted fresh red chili pepper or ground cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 peeled garlic clove
  • ¼ cup (28 g) fresh bread crumbs or ground almonds
  • ¼ cup (15 g) fresh parsley leaves
  • Fine sea salt, about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste
  • cup (75 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions 

For the broth:
  • Heat the oil in a tall pot (I use 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, orange peel, saffron, salt and fish bones and shrimp shells. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that the broth bubbles slowly without boiling.
  • Cook 30 minutes, then strain the broth into a large bowl or another pot and discard the solids.
  • 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 (this will just take a few minutes).
  • Taste the soup and add more salt and freshly ground pepper if needed.
Make the rouille:
  • Puree everything except for the olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil while processing to form a paste.
  • Toast the bread and brush with olive oil.
  • Serve the soup with bread and rouille.

Notes

  • For a heartier soup, serve over cooked broken vermicelli, orzo or other small pasta shape.
  • The broth can be prepared up to a day in advance. Store in the refrigerator and bring to a simmer. Add the seafood and cook as in Step 3.
Inspired by Julia Child’s essential cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1).
Recipe updated July 2020

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 996kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 141g | Fat: 44g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 496mg | Sodium: 962mg | Potassium: 2113mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1524IU | Vitamin C: 43mg | Calcium: 222mg | Iron: 6mg
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Hey, I’m Karen

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I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about making cooking fun and doable, with easy to follow tested recipes and incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

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35 Comments

  1. Colleen Ring says:

    I have a question about the styling of the photo…where did the towel that says “glass” come from and what about the towel underneath the plate? Can you share the sources??

    1. Hi Colleen – Thank you for asking! The towels are both vintage. Check Etsy and search for “vintage French” and “linen glass” towels.

  2. This looks like such a delicious and simple recipe – I can’t wait to make it! But I have a question about the Nutrition numbers. It says that the serving size is “1g”. That seems like 1 gram to me, but I know I must be wrong! What is the actual serving size?

  3. Thank you for this recipe. I made some slight changes based on what I had in the kitchen and the comments of a friend of mine from Marseilles. I added in 1/2 cup of shallots, the entire leek, the rind of an orange, and a fennel bulb (the entire thing), plus a tbsp tomato paste, a splash of Pernod, a dash of white pepper, a tsp paprika, and 2 tsp piment d’espelette. I had some lobster stock I made a few months ago in the freezer, so I just added it to my vegetables and let it simmer for 45 minutes. On the rouille, I grated a little lemon peel and added the traditional egg yolk. I went with a dash of cayenne pepper, plus some piment d’espelette again. I increased the olive oil to a 1/2 cup.

    It’s obvious this recipe is very forgiving and versatile, so thank you for posting such a solid base recipe. Really thankful to have found it.

  4. 5 stars
    You inspire me! This looks so good. XO

  5. 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.

    1. 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).

  6. 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

  7. 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?

    Jo

  8. 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.

  9. 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!!

  10. 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!

    1. 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!

  11. 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!

    1. Barbara, I bet that was absolutely amazing! I cannot think of a better way to enjoy such fresh seafood.

  12. 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.

    1. Thank you Damian! So glad to hear you enjoyed the recipe, and shared it on a special weekend.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

    1. Itay – so glad to hear you enjoyed this with Zoe! Made my day.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

    1. Evelyn, thanks for stopping by with your comment. So glad to hear you made the bouillabaisse, tweaked it and loved it! Cheers to you…

  17. 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?

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. How many people does it serve?

    1. Hi Joyce – My bad for not including the yield. This serves about 6 people. Bon appetit!

  23. 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).

    1. Stacey, that sounds delicious – I don’t think you can go wrong by adding more tomatoes. It’s a great match. Glad you enjoyed it!

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