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Julia Child’s Simple French Bouillabaisse Recipe

4.94 from 135 community reviews

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This traditional Provençal fish stew is one of the easiest and most satisfying meals you can make, and it has the most scrumptious aroma. In just one hour, you can be enjoying a hearty bowl of Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse!

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

Julia Child’s classic bouillabaisse recipe is a type of French seafood stew that combines fish, shellfish and vegetables in a tasty broth. Aside from cooking her recipes, it’s easy to get caught up in all things Julia Child.

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. I think it’s 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

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 on a dish, 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 crisp, creamy potato galette 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: Any one of these or a combination — cod, red snapper, sea bass, haddock, porgy, mullet 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 cloves, saffron threads, fennel bulb, 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, refreshing 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 baguette slices 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, ladle 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, tomatoes and fragrant seasonings and can be made in less than an hour.
Print Pin
4.94 from 135 community reviews
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Course Seafood
Cuisine French
Servings 6 servings


  • 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 chopped tomatoes
  • 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


  • 2 roasted and peeled red bell peppers, (jarred peppers are fine)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 peeled garlic clove
  • ¼ cup (28 g) fresh breadcrumbs, 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


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.

Karen’s Notes and Tips

  • 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.
Adapted from Julia Child’s essential cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1).


Calories: 996kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 141g | Fat: 44g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Sodium: 962mg | Potassium: 2113mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1524IU | Vitamin C: 43mg | Calcium: 222mg | Iron: 6mg

Nutrition facts are calculated by third-party software. If you have specific dietary needs, please refer to your favorite calculator.

Did you make this recipe? Search @Familystylefood or tag #familystylefood on Pinterest
Recipe developer Karen Tedesco of the popular website Familystyle Food in her kitchen making a kale salad.

Hey, I’m Karen

Creator of Familystyle Food

I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about creating elevated dinners with everyday ingredients. Find simplified recipes made from scratch and enjoy incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

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  1. 5 stars
    Classic recipe from the second cook book I received as a young, aspiring chef.
    Although it appears the egg yolk was omitted from the Rouille ingredients list.

  2. Tina Stanford says:

    5 stars
    I have been making this recipe for decades. Although it varies in terms of fishes added, it has alway been delightful and guests have loved it!

  3. Suzi Ring says:

    How much stock should you plan to have?

  4. Louise Wolf says:

    Where do you buy 4 pounds of fish heads etc? Maybe a fish market. Is there a substitution for this. Love to try recipe

    1. Louise — While buying your fish for the bouillabaisse, ask the fish market or seafood counter in your grocery store for trimmings, heads, etc. Also the shrimp shells from your shrimp can go into the stock.

  5. 5 stars
    Best boullabaisse ever. Leave it to the one and only Julia Child.

  6. Kathy Coons says:

    What wine do you recommend

    1. For serving, I would highly recommend a Provencal-style rosé or a fruity Cotes de Rhone (red).

  7. 5 stars
    I have been making bouillabaisse for years but I never really had it until I used Julia’s recipe. Just a few differences but what a contrast! Brava!

  8. Ruth Gervais says:

    5 stars
    I made one very small change, substituting the optional orange peel for lemon peel, but otherwise made it exactly like Julia! Outstanding!

  9. 5 stars
    Fantastic recipe! I just finished it and served it with fresh bread out of the oven with butter and crushed garlic. My husband was very impressed and said it tasted like the one we usually have in a very good restaurant 🙌

  10. Citizenreno says:

    5 stars
    Thanks a lot for posting this recipe. Due to Covid, had to reduce it. When you press on “print”, there was a drop down where one was able to reduce from 6 to three servings, which was perfect.
    I had lots of mussels left over – Rozzo, our fishmonger only sells them in bags of 2 lbs. Meanwhile, lots of them were open when I started washing them. I put the open ones back in the fridge, and the next day, they were all closed! Who knew?
    And I just warmed the soup up with these mussels – perfect again!

  11. I have been making this for years almost exactly the same way. So good. Last night. Friends.

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

    1. Monika Quinn says:

      I like your variations and will try soon!

  15. 5 stars
    You inspire me! This looks so good. XO

  16. 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).