Provençal Fish Soup

It is impossible to have a real bouillabaisse in England, as our seas are lacking in the variety of fish which goes to the making of the genuine soup. Somehow, too, quite apart from the distinctive flavour of the fish used in the making of bouillabaisse at Marseilles, the eating of it in cold blood, on a foggy day in London, Birmingham or Manchester, for instance, seems all wrong. You want the hot sun of Provençe, the exuberant and voluble waiter, the marseillais, bubbling over with enthusiasm over his famous local dish; and even if his black beard occasionally gets imbibed with it—well—it is all part of the fun of eating bouillabaisse. Thackeray waxed enthusiastic about it—although he misspelt the name—and wrote the following verse:

“This Bouillabaise a noble dish is,

A sort of soup, or broth, or brew.

A hotch-potch of all sorts of fishes

That Greenwich never could outdo;

Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffron,

Soles, onions, garlic, roach and dace . . .”

The recipe I give below for bouillabaisse is that of the famous provençal chef, J. B. Reboul, but I have substituted for the list of fish he gives, most of which are unobtainable in this country, a list of some of our more common fish.

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  • A small lobster or langouste
  • fresh haddock
  • turbot or brill
  • gurnet
  • bream
  • whiting
  • eel
  • crab—the weight of the fish should be altogether 2 lbs
  • when the meat has been removed from the lobster or langouste. Two large onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tomatoes
  • a sprig of thyme
  • 1 of fennel, parsley
  • 1 bayleaf
  • a strip of orange peel
  • ½ a tumbler of oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • a good pinch of saffron and sufficient boiling water to cover the fish
  • Slices of bread


Cut the fish into 2 inch lengths, keeping the coarse and the more delicate fish on separate plates. Put the chopped onions, the garlic, well crushed with the blade of a knife, and the chopped tomatoes, in a saucepan, with the oil, the herbs and orange peel. Add the coarser varieties of fish, cover with boiling water, and cook for 5 minutes on a very quick fire. Then put in the remaining fish, continue boiling fast for another 5 minutes—10 minutes hard boiling altogether. Remove from the fire, strain the liquid into soup plates on slices of bread, arrange the fish on a hot dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve at the same time. The fish is sometimes put on the bread in the soup plates. The object of this very fast boiling is that the oil and water will blend more thoroughly. In slower cooking, the oil would not mix properly and would rise to the surface. And if the fish is cooked any longer, it will break and spoil in appearance and flavour.