My Favorite Fish Soup


This is the soup I cooked for Julia Child in the south of France and later made for Elizabeth David in London with success. So I call it “My Favorite Fish Soup.” If you go all the way and use shellfish as well as fish carcasses, the ingredients are costly. A very good, though not sublime, version can be achieved using only the heads and backbones of non-oily white-fleshed fish: cod, bass, rockfish, conger eel, flatfish.

The soup is not clear because it has “body” from a pureeing of the carcasses after they are cooked.

You will need a food mill.


  • 6 pounds fish carcasses and heads
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 3 sprigs fennel tops
  • 1 large bouquet garni of thyme, bay leaves, leek tops, parsley
  • 1 piece orange zest, 3 by 1 inch
  • 2 quarts rich fish stock
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ pound shiitake, domestic, or field mushrooms
  • teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ pound small pasta shapes
  • 1 cup rouille
  • 24 croutons


Remove all innards and gills from the fish heads and carcasses.

Put ¼ cup of the olive oil, the onions, tomatoes, garlic, fennel, bouquet garni, orange zest, and ½ cup of the fish stock in a pot. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the fish carcasses and heads and remaining stock. Bring to a boil and skim any scum from the surface of the stock. Simmer for 20 minutes. Warm the saffron in the white wine. Add the wine to the stock and simmer 25 minutes more.

Meanwhile, marinate the mushrooms in the remaining cup olive oil, the thyme, and salt and pepper to taste for 10 minutes; broil until tender.

Cook the pasta as directed for the pasta salad. Slice the mushrooms and hold.

Take the stock off the heat and put the fish and broth through a food mill fitted with a medium-hole disk or press through a sieve. Clean the pot and return the broth. Add the mushrooms and pasta and bring to a boil. Correct the seasoning if necessary and serve very hot in large soup plates. Spoon the rouille into the soup, or put the croutons in the soup and spoon the rouille on top of them.

If you want truly amazing fish soup, do it all over again, using this soup as the fish stock to pour over more fish bones.