A fine kettle of fish

May 23, 2010

Sunday lunch in winter is a very fine thing, and a big pot of shellfish stew has gotta be up there as one of the easiest ways to make it happen. I don’t think I’ve ever made a proper bouillabaisse according to a recipe, but over the years various versions of this fishy number have made their way to our table.

Great for a crowd or just few, as we discovered today it must also be one of the easiest meals to take to someone else’s place – just make the stock base at home, stick it in a container, then throw it in a pot with the seafood five minutes before you’re ready to eat. The prawn stock is the important bit. This quantity makes a hefty bowl for four.


  • 12 large prawns
  • 1 small fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • splosh white wine
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 3 strips orange peel
  • few threads saffron
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • ½ kg black mussels, cleaned
  • ½ kg perch or other firm white fish, cut into 4cm chunks
  • 1 blue swimmer crab, cleaned & quartered
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  1. Peel & devein prawns, leaving tails on and setting aside the shells & heads.
  2. Heat oil & toss in shells & heads, stirring over high heat till pink, then add leek, fennel, garlic & celery and stir till softened & starting to caramelise.
  3. Deglaze with the wine, then add stock.
  4. Remove as much of the prawn shells & heads as much as you can using tongs – but if a bit of leg or shell remains, what’s a smidge of crunchy crustacean between friends?
  5. Add tomatoes, saffron, orange peel & chilli flakes. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  6. A few minutes before you’re ready to eat, add the fish and cleaned seafood and turn the heat to low or even off.
  7. Check for seasoning, serve in big bowls with a drizzle of olive oil.

Make sure you have some great bread for dunking. Today our family from the beachside burbs provided some incredibly good sourdough baguette from Iggy’s Bread in Bronte – I’d never heard of this guy before today, but he’s obviously the business.

And if you have any other fishy stewy recommendations or ideas for giving this version some extra zing (a la a splash of Pernod), I’m all ears…


  1. Sounds yum, Charlotte. I’m a dedicated prawn stock maker, thanks to Charmaine Solomon. Every time I peel a bunch of green prawns for whatever cooking purpose, I make a quick prawn stock by cooking the shells and heads in a saucepan (no oil, the leftover liquid after draining them in a colander is enough moisture to get started) till they turn pink, then adding a couple of whole chillies and something citrussy (lemon grass stalk, lime or lemon leaves or peel), plus a litre or so of water, and letting it all bubble along for about 20 minutes. It freezes fine for a month or so, and is great for seafood risottos, Asian-style seafood soups, etc.

    Your post is the right recipe at the right time. My greedy little brain-tummy conspiracy was whispering bouillabaissy suggestions only the other day, and along comes Charlotte with a timely blog/recipe. Thank you!

    • Excellent Jamie! Great tip re the no oil in the stock … and I’m glad it’s timely. Check out the rouille below – am salivating.

  2. I know you’re back blogging because of the frequency with which my mouth is filling with drool…

  3. “ROUILLE”~ a spicy rich shellfish emulsification is a traditional and most fantastic condiment to serve with Bouillabaisse. If you blend some of your left over shells with a little bit of the stock from your pot so it is of a thick soup consistency (aim for about 500ml), place in a saucepan and add say 2/3 of a fist size of bread torn up to the liquid, two red chilli’s seeds in, two garlic cloves and a touch more saffron, and gently simmer then reduce by at least half to a thick paste. Once reduced, pour onto a tray and let it cool down. Then all you do is make a basic mayonaise with the rouille base… so 4 egg yolks, 1tbs mustard, one kitchen spoon of the rouille base, lemon juice, a splash of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper blend all together for about a minute, then slowly add 200ml veg oil and 100ml olive oil. If the consistency is too thick add a few tablespoons of warm water to let it out as its blending. Adjust the seasoning with more salt/pepper and lemon if needed, then serve with garlic rubbed toasted bread, and some grated guryere cheese aside the fish stew! Take me back to Villa Franche Sur Mer please!!

    • HOLY cannoli batman. I am so going to try this soon. In fact I think bread sauces need some attention shortly …. and Ham, we need to discuss mayonnaise very shortly too. And Bernaise. And hollandaise. All the aises. I am hopeless at them; perhaps soon you can somehow instruct us in our own little howtoshuck tutorial… I am seeing all kinds of youtube opportunities here … hmmmm plotting plotting

  4. I love all hot and cold emulsifications, and more than happy to share the how’s and why’s!! I am doing a Taiwan tv show tomorrow… could be good practice… I am particularly looking forward to what gets lost in the translation!!

    Note to the rouille recipe, you could substitute the bread for potato in case you had any gluten intolerant friends coming around… as this seems to me to be a fast growing (trend) number!!

  5. We have to see this Taiwanese footage. Seriously! Get that mini videocam out, and make ‘the making of’ movie!

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