Karl’s French Provincial Bourride Fish Stew

I am constantly looking for new recipes to try for our Sunday dinners. I had thought of fish stew, but daughter Miriam has to have her meals without garlic or onions. I had suggested a yosenabe, but she felt that that would be too sweet. I settled on a “French(-ish) fish stew, but these frequently have fennel, which she is also not very fond of—and, truth be told, neither am I.

Karl’s French Provincial Bourride Fish Stew

Karl’s French Provincial Bourride Fish Stew

I found some recipes for a Provincial stew called a bourride (boiled). Many of the ingredient are first parboiled and the broth and vegetables are simmered together separately—with the parboiled seafood returned to the soup at the last minute. This technique ensures that the seafood is all done at the same time, but also prevents overcooking the delicate fish.

While the original fish for this dish are not generally available in California, I picked some local favorites. One aspect of the original recipe, that I decided that I could do without was stirring in  aioli at the last minute. While wife’s Jan’s diet could not handle the oil and just the idea of adding mayonnaise to a fish stew seemed wrong to me.

To allow those diners who would want garlic and onions, I decided to make a savory “float” to add to people’s individual bowls—come to think of it, I could have done the same thing with the aioli. Provincial fish stews frequently include potatoes, as well as carrots and celery. Since I wanted the fish to be the stars of the show I went lightly on the herbs, just a bit of  thyme and basil.

Karl’s French Provincial Bourride Fish Stew


2 cups dry white wine, separate uses

1 lb. little neck clams
1 lb. mussels
1 lb. small fingerling potatoes
1 lb. shrimp
1 lb. mahi mahi
¾ lb. rock fish
½ Dungeness crab

2 Tbs. butter
1 small onion
pinch kosher salt

2 stalks celery
1 large carrot
4 cloves garlic
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped

32 oz. fish stock
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
½ Tbs. dried basil
½ tsp. black pepper

¼ cup flat leafed parsley


1. Bring a quarter cup of wine—or water—to a boil in a medium pot and add the mussels.

2. Cover the pot and steam the mussels for 4-5 minutes.

Tip: When the mussels open they are finished cooking, remove them from the pot and continue steaming the remaining mussels for another 1-2 minutes.

Note: Any mussels that have not opened after 7 minutes may be dead and you should discard them.

3. Transfer the mussels to a bowl cool and add the clams to the pot.

Tip: Add more wine/water, if necessary.

Note: Again, discard any clams that fail to open.

4. Remove the clams to the bowl with the mussels.

Tip: Sometimes a clam will be filled with sand. Before you put the clams in the pot, you may feel for any that seem heavier than they should be—but this is sometimes difficult to assess. Ideally you want to collect and use any broth produced by the steaming of the mussels and clams, however if you end up with sand in your pot discard this liquid.

Note: Many people like to keep the shellfish attached when making soups like this, because it makes for an attractive presentation. I know from experience that my family prefers not to struggle with the shells. As a result, I remove the meat from the shells before returning them to the soup—this is also true for the shrimp shells.

5. Add a cup of liquid and the potatoes to the pot.

6. Simmer the potatoes, covered, for 20-30 minutes until tender.

Tip: A knife inserted into the largest potato should slip in easily.

Note: Trim off any bad spots from the potatoes, but leave the skins on—this prevents the starchy flesh of the potatoes from absorbing too much water and keeps their surfaces from turning mushy.

7. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and poach the shrimp and fish in the same water.

Tip: Simmer the shrimp for two minutes, and the mahi mahi and rock fish for three minutes each.

Note: You do not want the fish completely cooked at this point. They will finish cooking when they are returned to the soup, but this ensures that everything is done at the same time.

8. Remove the crab from the shells and keep it separate from the other ingredients.

Note: See note above about presentation vs. convenience.

9. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over a medium high heat.

Note: To adapt this soup for daughter Miriam—who is off garlic and onions—I cooked them separately from the rest of the soup. I put out these in a bowl for the other diners to add into their soup as they desired.

Karl’s French Provincial Bourride Fish Stew with garlic onions on the side

Karl’s French Provincial Bourride Fish Stew
with garlic onions on the side

10. Sauté the onions with the salt until they are starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.

11. Add the celery and carrots to the onions.

12. Continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, about another five minutes.

13. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about one minute.

Tip: Add a bit more butter if necessary.

14. Add half of the tomatoes—with any liquid—and deglaze the pot.

15. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has cooked away and a new tomato fond has formed.

Tip: Cooking the tomatoes until they have darkened greatly enhances the umami—meaty flavor—of the dish because of the Maillard reaction.

16. Deglaze the pot again with some of the fish stock.

17. Stir in the rest of the wine, fish stock, the thyme, and basil into the vegetables.

18. Cover the pot and simmer the soup for 10-20 minutes to meld the flavors.

Tip: You may make this soup up to this point hours ahead of time and put it on hold. After this you can reheat the soup and add the other ingredients in just a few minutes.

19.Stir in the pepper, potatoes, the seafood—except for the crab—and the remaining tomatoes into the soup.

Note: The crab is already cooked and very delicate. If you stir the pot too much after you have added the crab it will break into tiny bits.

20. Simmer the soup for 2-3 more minutes.

Tip: This final cook finishes cooking and re-warming the ingredients and melds the flavors together.

21. Garnish the soup with the crab and parsley and serve hot directly from the Dutch oven.

1 Comment

Filed under Main Dishes, Seafood, Soups

One response to “Karl’s French Provincial Bourride Fish Stew

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Arugula, Spinach, and Orange Salad | Jabberwocky Stew

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