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Fancy Bouillabaisse: Special Occasion Meals

Fancy Bouillabaisse is full of shrimp, lobster, crab in a light flavorful healthy broth perfect for a great meal to serve company!  A fish stew ready in less than 45 minutes!

Close up of bouillabaisse with lobster tail, shrimp and mussels

Today’s recipe is for what I call Fancy Bouillabaisse.  The biggest question I get when I talk about it is “what is bouillabaisse?”  

When researching this recipe I had to laugh at all the spellings that popped up.  From “bouillabaise”. “boullabaise” which are pretty close, to the ones that really made me smile “boule base” to my personal favorites….. “booyah base” and “booyabase.”  No matter what you want to call it, it is delicious!

It is a simple dish made of perfectly cooked succulent pieces of fish and shellfish that is served in a subtle flavorful broth thickened with healthy vegetables.

The recipe is most credited is originated from Marseille, France.  A classic French recipe for provincial fish stew.   It’s also popular in the Mediterranean where they serve something similar called a fisherman’s stew.

The one thing both places have in common is that its made with the freshest, shellfish and seafood that is available and not limited to specific kinds of fish.  It makes it ideal for entertaining because you can use the fish that is readily available and thus it’s usually pretty economical.

This seafood bouillabaisse is a go-to for entertaining in our home because you can make it quickly and can customize it to whatever fish you like or are able to find that is fresh and available.

Fancy Bouillabaisse is full of shrimp, lobster, crab in a light flavorful healthy broth perfect for a great meal to serve company!  A fish stew ready in less than 45 minutes!


What fish/shellfish is in Bouillabaisse?

  • Shrimp
  • Lobster Tails
  • Crab legs
  • Scallops
  • Little Neck Clams
  • Steamer Clams
  • Razor Clams
  • Mussels
  • Scallops
  • Crawfish
  • White Fish
  • Halibut
  • Grouper
  • Red Snapper
  • Cod

The list for fish to use as you can see is endless.  You can use pretty much anything as long as you are selecting things that you love and enjoy.  We tend to stick to shellfish because its something we love. But on occasion, I’ll add some fresh-caught white fish cut into pieces.

How do you make the fish stock for Seafood Bouillabaisse?

You’ll start by making a very flavorful base.  To start the broth I take the shells from the shrimp and make a simple fish stock.  By adding onions, carrots and celery cut to small pieces then adding water along with the shrimp shells and bring it to a boil.  It takes no more than 10 minutes to get all of the deep flavor from the shells into the broth and you are done.

I highly suggest you don’t use salt or pepper into the broth at this point.  It gives you the ability to taste and add the right amount of those seasonings once you have cooked the vegetables and fish.  I like the control it gives by adding it at the last minute.  It’s easy to add more, but next to impossible to get rid of a salty taste if you over season it.

Strain everything out and use the plain fish stock for the base of the fish stew.

Can you use store-bought fish stock? Absolutely, but since it takes such little time to make it homemade and the fact I have the shrimp shells anyway I almost always make my own.  If you aren’t using shrimp in your recipe you can make a vegetable broth as the base using the same ingredients and add a couple of garlic cloves.

Once you have this fish stock you’ll layer on even more flavors with the additions of leeks, onions, tomatoes, carrots, tomatoes, tiny bite-sized potatoes and the two ingredients that make bouillabaisse have such a full-bodied depth: Fennel and Pernot.

Fennel is one of the foods I find that people either love or hate.  It kind of has a licorice flavor when it’s raw but when it is cooked it just adds a nice subtle sweet flavor and when pureed in this recipe provides a nice basis for the slightly thickened broth.  The Pernod is alcohol adds to the flavor when you are using it to deglaze the pan. (The alcohol does burn away when you cook it after adding it.)

One other flavor that is prominent in this fish stew recipe is saffron.  It adds a beautiful color and works really well with the colors of the fish.  Saffron is the most expensive spice available but a little goes a long way so it won’t break the bank when you find it.  (trader joe’s carries it around the holidays)

It’s up to you after the broth is made if you want to puree it or leave it thinner. I do it both ways.  I tend to prefer a slightly thicker broth for the stew, but sometimes taking the time to puree it is time I don’t want to spend.

Once the base is done all that’s left to do is cook the shellfish and fish.

How long to cook the shellfish and fish?

  • Lobster: cut in half 5-8 mins, whole 8-12
  • Crab: (most crab is already cooked so you are just warming it) 4-10 mins depending on size
  • Shrimp: 2-4 mins depending on size
  • Mussels: 5-7 minutes
  • Clams: 8-10 mins depending on size (Jumbo will take even a few mins more)
  • Fish Filets: cut to 2-inch pieces then cook 4-7 minutes

These are just guidelines because the sizes you purchase will cause the time to vary.  Over time I’ve come to know how long to cook the fish.  If I see something is done cooking I will pull it out of the boiling broth right away then finish cooking the other fishes.  If you aren’t comfortable cook each fish in batches then remove from the pot.  The steaming hot broth will rewarm the fish/shellfish very easily.

Bouillabaisse Recipe that is served with rouille toast

Points of Interest of the Fish Stew

Easy/Hard:  The hardest part of this is cleaning the fish you use.  The rest is super easy.  If you puree the veggies after cooking them you can roughly chop all of them which makes prep super quick.

Make-Ahead:  You can make the broth up to 3 days ahead, and even clean the fish and have them ready to just drop in the broth to cook early in the day.  It makes it a great recipe for entertaining because you can just do the cooking of the fish at the last minute.

Store the fish on ice under a dampened towel in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

Serve With:  This goes great with a nice garlic bread and a garlic aioli spread.  You use the bread to sop up all of the broth once you’ve finished the shellfish.

Pairs with: a crisp white wine such as Riesling or a Pinot Gris.  It also goes nicely with a sparkling wine, and on occasion, I’ve found a light rose that pairs well.

Seafood stew that is full of crab, shrimp and lobster for entertaining

Looking for other Meals for Special Occasions:

For more fish and shellfish recipes you can see them all here!

Hashtag any recipes you make from West Via Midwest #westviamidwestrecipes or tag me @michele_westviamidwest on Instagram to be featured on our stories!  

Seafood Bouillabaisse is full of shrimp, lobster, crab in a light flavorful healthy broth perfect for a great meal to serve company!  A fish stew ready in less than 45 minutes!
Yield: 6 servings

Fancy Bouillabaisse: Special Occasion Meal

Fancy Bouillabaisse is full of shrimp, lobster, crab and all the good things that make a great romantic meal! Ready in less than 45 minutes is just a bonus!

Fresh shellfish in a very flavorful broth you can have on the table in less than 45 minutes

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek , chopped thinly, white and light green parts only
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 whole fennel bulb—bulb only, diced, fronds reserved
  • 4 cloves garlic. minced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons Pernod
  • 5 cups fish stock or water
  • 1 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes. tiny bite sized ones, peeled
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 5 oz lobster tails, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound mussels, rinsed and beards removed
  • 1 pound crab legs, cut into small 4-6" sections
  • 1 loaf Sourdough bread sliced.


  1. Into a stock pot, add olive oil and heat to medium high.  Once hot, add leeks, onions, garlic, fennel and carrots.  Saute until onions and fennel are translucent.  
  2. Add tomatoes and saffron and stir for 5 minutes.  Then add Pernod to deglaze the pan.  (Scrape up bits from bottom of pan.) This will happen very quickly.
  3. Add stock(or water) bay leaves and potatoes to pot.  Bring pot to simmer.  Continue to cook until small potatoes and carrots are cooked and tender.  Remove from heat.
  4. While the pot of veggies/broth is simmering, clean all shell fish and have on a plate ready to cook once broth is pureed.
  5. Remove 1/2 of the potatoes and set aside.  Remove Bay leaves and discard.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup taking care blend all ingredients to smooth.  Season with salt (especially if you used water versus fish stock.)
  6. Put stock post of pureed broth back onto burner and heat to hot and bubbling temperature. Add potatoes back into pot.   Once broth is hot, add clams first, and cook for 3-5 minutes.  Then add mussels and cook for 3 more minutes.  At this time add shrimp, lobster and crab and cook until shrimp and lobster halves are completely opaque.
  7. Place a little of each kind of shellfish in each serving bowl then ladle broth over the top and serve.  (optional:  Use leftover fennel fronds by mincing them and sprinkle over the top as garnish!) 
  8. Serve with thick bread to use to sop up last of broth. 


You can make this broth ahead and then just reheat to hot and cook the shellfish at the time you wish to serve it.  The broth can be made up to 3 days ahead.

This recipe's calorie information was made using the exact ingredients/brands I purchased and calculated in My Fitness Pal.  Please be aware that if you make it using different ingredients or substitute different brands the information will vary and plan accordingly if you are following strict dietary information.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

6 servings

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 360Carbohydrates: 28gFiber: 4gSugar: 7gProtein: 55g

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Sunday 25th of April 2021

Michele, I have a good timer for sale, as yours is obviously not working. Just finished making the soup and it took me 2 hours! You must have a sou chef helping. By the way, great recipe, tastes wonderful. Best recipe I’ve used.

Michele Hall

Saturday 12th of June 2021

Peter- I tried it again after you mentioned the timing.... I was still the same. Maybe Im a super fast chopper. Im going to have my husband do the prep next time and see if I should readjust the times.... So glad you enjoyed it! ~m


Monday 30th of July 2018

I made this recipe for my husband's birthday and it was a big hit! He loves seafood and this dish was perfect. Thank you for another wonderful recipe.


Monday 30th of July 2018

It's one of my husbands favorites too! Im so glad you enjoyed it! ~m

Brian Jones

Thursday 22nd of March 2018

It is rare for me to click through from a pinterest link I just happen to come across... However this is the most enticing plate of food I have seen in a long old time! Ok I live in landlocked Hungary and this is a gorgeuous bowl of everything I love and cannot get my hands on!

So I'll not be making this in the near future but genuinely wish I could, wonderful sounding food!


Thursday 22nd of March 2018

How amazing are you to leave such a nice comment.... Id say Id make it in your honor, but somehow that seems mean~~~ I hope someday you are able to get ahold of some fresh shellfish.. it really is a treat! ~m


Thursday 1st of March 2018

What a gorgeous meal! I love the combination of flavors, it sounds so up my alley!

Michele @ Bacon Fatte

Wednesday 28th of February 2018

Seafood dishes always catch my attention... Especially if they're fancy! Love this recipe, Michele!

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