Bouillabaisse is a hearty French seafood stew, similar to cioppino but further characterized by the addition of saffron and a fish stock/white wine base as the broth. Fennel and orange peels are also ingredients that are common to a French bouillabaisse and are included in the recipe below.
What exactly is Bouillabaisse?
While the fish itself can be quite similar in various seafood stews, the broth is where the classic seafood stews make their stand. A classic French bouillabaisse broth would be characterized by a homemade fish stock with perhaps the addition of some white wine. Another key ingredient to a bouillabaisse stock is saffron.
Chowders tend to have a cream base, cioppino has a tomato base, Brazilian fish stew ( moqueca) has a coconut milk base, and Thai curry fish stews have a curry/coconut milk base. Of course there is a fish stew indigenous to just about every region, but those are the ones I am most familiar with.
In addition to the fish stock and the saffron, a classic bouillabaisse will most likely include fennel and orange peels.
For a great recipe for cioppino and more details on the differences between bouillabaisse and cioppino, click here.
What kind of fish is in a bouillabaisse?
To get really technical, an “authentic” bouillabaisse cannot be made outside of Provence because it must include Provence’s indigenous scorpion fish. In the states, a snapper or sea bass is frequently used as a substitute for scorpion fish.
The main thing that most fish stew aficionados agree on is that oily fish like salmon is a travesty in a bouillabaisse. If you don’t have access to scorpian fish and you avoid oily fish like salmon, then just about any seafood is a go.
I like to start with white fish like cod, snapper, halibut and maybe tilapia. After cooking the white fish for a few minutes I will add some shrimp and mussels. If lobster or crab is available, all the better!
Keys to a Successful Low Carb Bouillabaisse
First of all, it is easy to make bouillabaisse low carb ….just avoid adding potatoes. Most of the other ingredients are low carb compliant and shouldn’t be a problem on low carb, slow carb or keto lifestyles.
There are two (maypbe three) keys to a successful seafood stew of any kind:
- the flavor of the broth is key. Often, seafood can become somewhat bland and needs a flavorful broth to enhance it. Taste as you go and if the broth is too bland for you, add something spicy or perhaps some more anise-flavored liqueur.
- Seafood cooks very quickly and it is easy to overcook it and get a rubbery texture. Simmer the broth a long time to meld all the flavors but only add the seafood in the last 3-5 minutes
- Don’t forget the salt. This goes hand in hand with #1. Salt can bring out the more subtle and delicate flavors which is desirable. Salt and taste as you go.
Low Carb Bouillabaisse
- 1/4 tsp saffron
- 2 cups white wine divided
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 bulb fennel chopped
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- 1 onion chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 14 oz diced tomatoes
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 3 sprigs parsley
- 2 Tbsp Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
- 5 orange peels from 1/2 orange
- 2 cups clam juice or home-made fish stock
- 2 tsp salt or to taste
- 3 lbs white fish some combination of cod, snapper, halibut, or monkfish
- 1/2 lb mussels
- 1/2 lb shrimp
- 1/4 tsp cayenne optional
- In a small bowl or glass, add 1/4 tsp saffron to 1/2 cup white wine and set aside
- Heat oil in a large pot over med-high and then add chopped fennel, celery, onions. Saute mixture until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add chopped garlic for 30 seconds to a minute.
- Add next 8 ingredients (tomato paste through salt) to the pot and bring to a low boil. Turn down heat and simmer broth for about 30 minutes. If you want more liquid in the soup, add another cup of water, clam juice or wine at this point.
- Taste the broth for salt and flavor. If desired, add the cayenne and/or more salt or Pernod.
- Add the white fish to the pot and cook for 3-5 minutes, until no longer transcluent. Be careful not to overcook. Add shrimp and mussels to the pot and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Taste again for seasoning and adjust to your taste. Serve with low carb almond flour crackers if low carb. Otherwise, serve with crusty French bread.