Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Bouillabaisse and Bouillabaisse Marseillaise on French Menus and Links to Recipes for Bouillabaisse.
Behind the French Menu
A genuine bouillabaisse is a whole meal.
Do not order an
hors d’oeuvre or an entrée if
you are in a restaurant that serves a real bouillabaisse; it is a very large
A bouillabaisse ready to serve.
Photograph courtesy of nyaa_birdies_perch.
The taste of a Bouillabaisse
unique taste comes from a recipe that includes saffron and garlic flavoring. That flavoring is blended with a
very special fish stock, fennel, thyme, parsley, olive oil and of course, the
fish. It is not often that you have the
opportunity to enjoy a dish where saffron really comes to the fore and
bouillabaisse is that dish. Served alongside each diner’s bowl will be a thick
rouille sauce, grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese, along with garlic toast or
croutons. The rouille sauce is a made with Provence’s famous aïoli
garlicky mayonnaise, to which chilies have been added to make it spicy. Worry
not the diner controls the spice.
Rouille, grated cheese, and slices of toasted, garlic flavored, baguettes next to a bowl of soup.
Photograph courtesy of erinpk.
The rouille sauce served alongside a bouillabaisse.
Rouille sauce, the word means rust and refers to the sauce's color, is not unique to bouillabaisse;
many other French fish soups are served with a rouille sauce. All
rouille sauces will be slightly different; the chef matches the rouille to
correctly flavor a particular soup. Few French
recipes are really spicy and for that reason you, the diner, add the spicy bouillabaisse
rouille to your individual taste. Each diner also chooses how
much of the grated cheese and toast or croutons to add. I add the rouille, firstly to the garlic
toast, and taste it, then I dip a little
in the soup and taste it again, before
deciding, finally, how much of the rouille I want to add to the soup.
A serving of bouillabaisse.
Photograph courtesy of evansent.
The serving of bouillabaisse in two parts
who enjoy presenting restaurant theatre, and have enough trained staff, serve
a bouillabaisse in two parts. The serving of bouillabaisse in two stages, when
properly done, makes a wonderful meal even more enjoyable. First served is the soup, usually with an
additional bowl placed in the center of the table; that extra bowl
is on hand for second and third helpings. The soup, when the diners have
finished, will be followed by the second course, the fishes that were cooked in
the soup. A server, often it will be the Maitre D’, will then fillet
the fish with a minimum of hand movements; a theatrical show of true expertise.
The soup from a bouillabaisse.
Photograph by courtesy of
the enjoyment of the dramatics when a bouillabaisse is served in stages many
truly excellent bouillabaisses are found in smaller restaurants. Restaurants
that do not have the staff for separate servings may have a great chef
in the kitchen; separate servings were never part of the dish’s origins. For the original fishermen and fisherwomen’s
fish stews there were no waiters around.
Bouillabaisse as it may appear on French menus.
The stamp that honors Bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse is part of the French soul; the French
issued a stamp in its honor.
Bouillabaisse or Le Vrai Bouillabaisse – The real
Bouillabaisse. If the restaurant is a
fish restaurant, or you have a clear recommendation, then expect the real
thing. When in doubt, ask how the restaurant serves their bouillabaisse.
– A fisherman’s bouillabaisse. You will
see this on menus along the tourist routes in the South of France. The small print on many of these menus note that
only one to three different fish will be included, all variations come with
different prices. The different types of fish affect the price as well as the
taste. Just as there is no free lunch, there are no cheap versions of a real
bouillabaisse. Look carefully at the menus outside restaurants that seem to
offer bouillabaisse; if there is small
print read it. These variations are often far from the original and usually much smaller;
however, when a whole bouillabaisse is too large a meal, say at lunchtime, consider
these offerings as a fish soup and enjoy.
Bouillabaisse du Nord - A sea fish and
seafood soup from the North of France. These are often excellent fish soups;
unfortunately most are far from a real bouillabaisse. Despite that caveat I have
often found these soups to be very good fish soups; so I just enjoy them and ignore
the word bouillabaisse.
– The original Bouillabaisse Marseillaise recipe is claimed by the
Mediterranean port city of Marseilles from sometime in the 1800’s. Many menus
in the South of France offer bouillabaisse;
however, Marseilles owns the trademark.
The Charter of the Marseillaise Bouillabaisse was written much much later, in
1980. The charter sets down the rules for an authentic Bouillabaisse Marseillaise
and I have noted the fish and shellfish in the charter further down this post.
With or without the charter, the tradition of bouillabaisse still varies
among chefs who specialize in this dish; each of these chefs will be true to a
tradition, it may be that of his or her mentor, or to a recipe inherited from his or her Grand-mère or Grand-père.
Bouillabaisse Royale – A bouillabaisse
served with a half or whole spiny lobster, a langouste, on top; sometimes a crab.
The spiny lobster is the owner of the lobster tail. A Bouillabaisse Royale is clearly a dish
created to impress the tourists, French or not.
Lobster tails make excellent eating, as do French crabs, but after a
genuine bouillabaisse who needs one? A real
bouillabaisse is a very, very large meal.
Two crabs for a bouiliabaisse Royale.
Photograph courtesy of diluvienne
What is the most important ingredient in bouillabaisse?
Some of these fish may be in your bouillabaisse.
Photograph courtesy of chezrobyn.
I have been
told by chefs and maître D’s in the South of France that the particular fish
used in a genuine bouillabaisse are the most important ingredients; the Charter
of the Marseillaise Bouillabaisse also makes this claim. Other chefs and Maitre D’s from the same
region have insisted that the fumet, the fish stock, along with the saffron are
the most important ingredients.
The fumet, the fish stock, and the saffron in a bouillabaisse.
enjoyed, in authentic French restaurants that were far from France, a number of
excellent bouillabaisses I lean to the fumet, the fish stock, and the saffron
being the most important part of the recipe.
The fish stock used is prepared with vegetables, garlic, herbs, spices, white
wine and white wine vinegar and the heads and bones of fish. The fish stock, is the real secret behind the absolute bouillabaisse.
The place where bouillabaisse began and the origin of its name.
began in the port of Marseille on France’s Mediterranean coast; then it was a
meal prepared by fishermen and fisherwomen as they returned home. Provencal, a dialect of Occitan, is
the language used by most of the
Marseille fisher-folk, and in Provencal bouillabaisse is a boiabaïsso. The origin of the Provencal/Occitan word is
similar to the French; in French bouillir
means to boil, and the word abaisser, means to reduce,
and voila we have bouillabaisse. Saffron
the most expensive herb in the dish was always very expensive, but it was, and
some saffron still is, locally grown, as are all the other herbs and spices.
Fish for sale in Marseille's old port.
Photograph courtesy of
The Original Bouillabaisse
working fisherman's and fisherwoman’s meal the original bouillabaisse used the
fish that did not sell well; fish and shellfish that were easily sold were
never for the fishermen or fisherwomen or their families. Fish like John Dory
or monkfish, as well as shellfish like the spiny lobster, even mussels, would all have been
sold. What was left would be members of the sea robin, the scorpion fish family,
along with the weever fish, the conger eel and probably the cigale de mer, the
slipper lobster. Today bouillabaisse
often includes much more expensive fish along with shellfish and mussels that
were never in the original recipe; we can enjoy the additions despite the
implied lack of respect for the original recipe. Even the sea robin, the scorpion fish, now that it is
supplied to fish markets and restaurants without its spines, is no longer an
A bouillabaisse with some extras.
Photograph courtesy of Wil Wright.
Bouillabaisse in New York
enjoyed an East Coast Bouillabaisse in an exclusive Manhattan, NY, USA,
restaurant, and that was not a traditional bouillabaisse either; nor did it
pretend to be. The two-clawed lobster,
shrimp and the fish in the dish I was served would never have been part of any traditional bouillabaisse stew. The soup’s
taste, obviously down to a perfect fish stock, along with wonderful fish, was
very close to the best that I have tasted in Provence, even the rouille was
excellent; altogether it was a wonderful bouillabaisse. Who was I to criticize a really excellent
bouillabaisse that had kept its essence; even if it had strayed far from its
The Charter of the Bouillabaisse Marseillaise.
Marseille Office de Tourisme I obtained a copy of La Charte de la Bouillabaisse
Marseillaise, the Charter of the Marseillaise Bouillabaisse. The charter was written in 1980 by a group
of 3 Marseillaises restaurateurs and is dedicated to preserving
the traditional bouillabaisse recipe. The original 3 have since been joined by
many others from France and elsewhere. They may not succeed in ensuring that
every chef uses the same fish, but if they preserve the taste that is enough. While the Marseillaise Bouillabaisse charter
insists on the use, where possible, of
the original fish it does allow for the use of a number of different and
more expensive fish and shellfish when the originals are not available.
Directions to the next bouillabaisse.
A road sign in the town of St Raphael on
the Mediterranean coast.
150 kms from Marseilles.
Photograph courtesy of diluvienne.
Marseilles Charter requires that at least four fish from the six fish indicated
below must be used in any genuine Bouillabaisse Marseillaise:
The sea robin family, scorpion fish, on sale in the
Marseille, old port.
A number of different family members on sale.
Picture by courtesy of marcovdz
Araignée also called
– The spotted weaver. This is a beautiful fish; however, it is not enjoyed for
its beauty, its taste is even more enjoyable.
Its name means spider and is not to be confused with the crab araignée
or the unique French cut of beef also called araignée.
Chapon, the local name, the Rascasse Rouge or Truie
elsewhere in France -
The Large Scaled or Red Scorpion Fish, a member of the sea robin family. A chapon in French is a capon in English and
this fish is certainly is not a member of the chicken family. When they are
caught weighing over 400 grams they will make Mediterranean menus on their own.
The chapon, the red scorpion fish.
courtesy of Jean-Loup Castaigne.
All the sea robin
family members are very tasty fish; but when they are small they are very bony,
hence the smallest of these fish will be in many Mediterranean fish soups. These tasty fish have excellent white meat and the larger sized fish will be menus on their own when grilled or
sautéed. The sea robin’s other family name is the scorpion fish as they have
poisonous barbs in their backs; for that reason originally these fish were not
easily sold. Today these poisonous barbs are removed when the fish are caught
or later in the fish markets; the restaurants and the public may buy them
without any problems.
Congre – The conger eel or the European conger eel.
The meaty conger eel is part of many other French fish soups, including the
traditional Basque fish soup Ttoro and the Corsican Aziminu.
eel concealing its size in a rock.
courtesy of cquintin
Gallinette, Grondin Gallinette – The Common
Searobin, another member of the scorpion fish family; a bony small fish, highly valued for its flavor. This fish will be in many Mediterranean fish
soups; however, for those dining on
bouillabaisse in Germany or Italy I have not found this fish’s name in their
Rouge, Scorpène - The small red scorpion fish.
Rascasse Blanche or Uranoscope - The stargazer; another member of the scorpion
fish or sea robin family.
The other fish and shellfish that the Marseillaise
Bouillabaisse charter permits:
Baudroi in Provence; Lotte in the rest of France. – The monkfish or
Angler Fish. This is one of the tastiest of all sea fish with succulent, firm,
white meat; it is such a tasty and adaptable fish that it will be on many
menus on its own, and not just in fish restaurants.
See the post: Lotte or Baudroie-Monkfish.
Cigale de Mer - The slipper lobster; the only seafood
traditionally included in a genuine bouillabaisse. The slipper lobsters are a
whole family of short-clawed lobsters; the members of this family when caught
in the Mediterranean sea are generally quite small, under 20 cms. There were, in all probability, part of the original recipe. in other dishes only the tail of this
small lobster will be served as only the tail has any meat; slipper lobster tails, though smaller and a
little tougher, when served on their own, are prepared with recipes created for
rock lobster tails.
Cigale de Mer.
courtesy of Philippe Guillaume
Langouste - The spiny lobster or rock lobster; this is
the owner of the well-known lobster tail.
Langoustes on their own are often served with recipes originally created
for the much more expensive homard, the two-clawed lobster.
Choose your own cold lobster tail mayonnaise
Saint Pierre – St
Peter’s fish; in North America and the UK this is the fish called John
Dory. This is one of France’s most
popular fish and will be on many menus whether in fish restaurants or not. See the post: The Saint-Pierre, that unique fish.
John Dory underwater.
courtesy of Diving Ben
from the Mediterranean French chefs choose other fish to prepare a
bouillabaisse and the extended family of sea robins, scorpion fish, have members all
over the world. With a carefully prepared fish stock and the use of the right
herbs, when away from home French chefs may still produce excellent
Recipes for bouillabaisse and links to them.
blog was written for those who like me love French cuisine but prefer to be less
involved in the cooking; for that reason
I keep away from including recipes.
that, from my original post on bouillabaisse, there were questions about what
goes into a good home-made bouillabaisse in North America and the UK, and other
English speaking countries.
provide some answers, despite my own limitations as a cook, I Googled and Binged
recipes for bouillabaisse in English; it was then that I realized that there truly was a
problem. I found many, if not most, English recipes for bouillabaisse begin with shellfish and fish that are not found in any traditional French bouillabaisse
recipe. At the same time I looked at the
herbs included and there I found English language recipes that suggest a “pinch” of saffron! How can you get the taste of a genuine bouillabaisse
for six or more people with a " pinch"
on my disappointment in the UK and North American recipes that I had found I checked up on French recipes. An incredible difference; nearly all of the French
recipes that I Googled and Binged etc., keep much closer to the fish, herbs and
spices in traditional recipes. Most of the fish in those recipes either are available or have close family members available all around the world.
Chrome and IE offer automatic translation of foreign language web
sites and I believe that all the others do as well; the translations may not be perfect but for recipes the overall idea is very clear and the quantities and times hardly need translation.
For the recipes noted below the translations were very good. I also use automatic translations for Chinese and other language web sites and they also offer, mostly, understandable translations.
The four recipes shown below I have chosen for their choice of fish and the herbs and
spices to be used. I have not tested a single one. They all look good and I
hope they are.
de Mer - The slipper lobster. (German –bärenkrebs
and groser bärenkrebs), (Italian – magnosella and magnosa), (Spanish –
santiaguiño and cigarra). (Latin - scyllarides
Grondin Gallinette – The Common Searobin. (Chinese (Mandarin) - 小口鋸魴鮄),(Spanish - rubio
gallineta), (Latin - prionotus ruscarius ).
Help with this fish’s name in other languages will be appreciated.
Langouste - The spiny lobster or rock lobster; this is
the owner of the well-known lobster tail. (Chinese
(Mandarin ) - 小龙虾 -
xiǎo lóngxiā), (German – Europäische languste, stachelhummer or
langustenschwänze), (Greek – αστακού, astakoú),
– In North America and the UK
this is the fish called John Dory. (Chinese (Mandarin) - 日本海魴 , 澳洲海魴 - hǎi fáng, Rì běn hǎi fang), (Dutch
zonnevis), German -peterfisch, heringkonig,
Sankt Petersfisch, Europäischer, heringskönig), ( Hebrew - ג'ון דורי
– John Dory), (Italian –pesce San Pietro, pesce gallo, Sanpietro, pesce di Cristo), (Korean - 달고기, Tal-go-gi), (Malay – dory tompok), (Portugues – galo-negro),( Rumanian -
dulgher), (Russian - Солнечник обыкновенный ), (Spanish – pez de San martin, gall, gall de la mar, gall de San Pedro, gallo,
pez de San Pedro). (Ukrainian
- solnechnik), (Turkish - dikenlipeygamber balığı), (Latin - zeus faber)
Thanks for help with translations:
these fishes’ names were translated with the help of chefs and waiters and in Europe many
came from restaurant menus. The others, especially those with special
calligraphy requirements came with the help of FishBase, Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors.
2013. FishBase, World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org,
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2014
For more information on the book behind this blog contact