We streamline the preparation of a deeply flavored Provençal stew by using supermarket seafood and bottled clam juice.
SERVES 6 to 8
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Bouillabaisse is a classic Provençal dish with humble origins, a fisherman’s cost-effective family meal turned upscale seafood stew, that will bring the flavors and aroma of the French seaside into your kitchen. It relies on a deeply flavored fish stock (or fumet ) made from scratch. After the broth has simmered for hours, a variety of fish and shellfish are poached in the complex broth. Bouillabaisse is always served with thick slices of French bread or garlic croutons and with rouille , a luxuriant saffron and garlic mayonnaise. Our goal was to create a simpler adaptation of this French classic that was still authentic in flavor, without being overly time-consuming. Traditional bouillabaisse relies on a medley of upward of six different species of seafood. In the interest of time and expense, we limited our variety to diverse but widely available shrimp, scallops, and halibut. Wishing to have at least one shell-on mollusk in the mix, we added mussels for their delicate flavor and shorter cooking time. While we loved the idea of using homemade fish stock, we wondered if with everything else going on in the pot we could get away with using bottled clam juice to streamline things. Fortified with sautéed aromatics, fennel, white wine, and a generous amount of garlic, we created a solidly flavorful broth on which to build the rest of our dish. We added diced tomatoes and just enough saffron to perfume the broth with its distinctive flavor, color, and aroma and added fresh thyme and bay leaves as well. As the shrimp, scallops, halibut, and mussels cooked, their juices combined with the saffron-infused tomato base to produce the ideal amount of cooking liquid with plenty left to serve in a soup plate. If halibut isn’t available, you can substitute swordfish. Serve with a touch of Rouille and Garlic Toasts , if desired.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and chopped fine
1 onion, chopped fine
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 pound skinless halibut fillets, ¾ to 1 inch thick, cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
12 ounces mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 pound large sea scallops, tendons removed
8 ounces medium-large shrimp (31 to 40 per pound), peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add fennel and onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, saffron, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine and cook until slightly reduced, about 30 seconds.
2. Stir in clam juice, tomatoes with their juice, and bay leaves. Bring to simmer and cook until liquid has reduced by about half, 7 to 9 minutes.
3. Pat halibut dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Nestle halibut into pot, spoon some cooking liquid over top, and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Nestle mussels and scallops into pot, cover, and continue to cook until halibut is almost cooked through, about 3 minutes.
4. Arrange shrimp evenly over stew, cover, and continue to cook until halibut flakes apart when gently prodded with paring knife, shrimp and scallops are firm and opaque in center, and mussels have opened, about 2 minutes.
5. Off heat, discard bay leaves and any mussels that refuse to open. Gently stir in tarragon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in wide, shallow bowls.