Bouillabaisse a la Californien (A French Inspired Seafood Stew)

Is it Bouillabaisse without the rouille?


I’ve heard that bouillabaisse is not bouillabaisse without the rouille (a type of garlicky mayonnaise made with stale bread).  If that is so, than this certainly is not bouillabaisse.

It is definitely not cioppino either.


Instead it is some sort of hybrid, created with locally sourced seafood, French liquor, and a mixture of spices.  It’s a recipe inspired by my aunt Wendy, whose recipe I diverged from.  Although the flavor is incredibly rich and full of depth, bringing to mind the waters of Marseille, the soup stuns with its west coast freshness and simplicity.  I cannot lay any claim to authenticity, but I can say that this stew is absolute perfection, with complex flavors to entertain even the snobbiest of foodies (including a Basque chef or two).


As always, I’m going to preface the recipe with a few conditions:

  1. Buy only the freshest seafood:  If you can’t find all of the seafood listed below, substitute with something else.  The key to the flavor is extremely fresh seafood.  In the San Diego area? Try El Pescador or Catalina Offshore Products for great locally sourced seafood.
  2. Leave yourself enough time: This is not a quick and easy weeknight dinner solution.  Give yourself enough time to prepare all of the ingredients.  The more tender loving care you put into this, the better the flavors.
  3. Share.  This is a great dish for a fabulous dinner party!


Bouillabaisse a la Californien


  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 lb mussels
  • 1 lb clams
  • 1/2 lb calamari
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 1 lb sword fish fillet (or whatever fish is fresh and local)
  • 5 shallots (diced)
  • 1/2 fennel bulb
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 6 tomatoes
  • 3 large garlic cloves (diced)
  • 1 8 oz. bottle clam juice
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 4 tbs. salt
  • 2  bay leaves
  • fresh parsley for garnish


Begin by cleaning the seafood.  Scrub and de-beard the mussels, disposing of any already opened shells.  Clean the shrimp by removing the shells.  Prepare the squid by removing the head, ink sac, inner organs, pen, and outer membrane.  Chop the body of the squid into rings about an inch thick.  Chop fish steaks into square shaped pieces.

In a large pot, I prefer to use a dutch oven, heat 1 tbs olive oil over high heat.  Flash grill the squid and shrimp, flipping after a few minutes, so that they are slightly browned on the outside and just cooked through.  Remove shrimp and calamari and set aside.  Turn down heat to medium and add fish pieces.  Cook for approximately 3 minutes on each side, or until just barely cooked through. Remove fish and set aside.

Chop fennel bulb, celery, and tomatoes.

Add the rest of the olive oil and the diced shallots to your seafood seasoned pot.  Cook over medium heat until shallots are golden.

Add chopped fennel bulb, celery, garlic, and tomatoes to onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for approximately 6 minutes or until the tomatoes are beginning to break apart.

Add clam juice, chicken stock, vermouth, salt, and spices.  Turn up heat allowing the mixture to boil then cover and lower temperature to a simmer.  Simmer your stock for as long as you can manage (I aim for an hour).  Broth should be extremely rich and flavorful with just a hint of a kick from the cayenne.

Bring broth back to a boil and add the shell fish.  Cover and cook over medium heat until mussels and clams have opened (approximately 10 minutes).  Discard of any unopened shells.

Remove soup from heat and allow broth to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Add precooked fish, shrimp, and calamari.

Serve garnished with fresh parsley and a french baguette.

2 thoughts on “Bouillabaisse a la Californien (A French Inspired Seafood Stew)

    1. Understandably, much harder to do when in school! I only had time to make this, because I hosted a dinner party over the holidays. During a typical week it would be hard to take 2 hours to make something like this… though definitely worth it


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