North America Bouillabaisse Fishes?

Am soon to make a bouillabaisse for 7-8 persons in the American Pacific Northwest. I’ve already completed with great satisfaction a broth/stock–halibut collar stock, saffron, orange peel, etc. Liquid gold.

The only head-scratcher now is the fish array for show-time. As Mediterranean mainstays are out of the question here, I will buy quality frozen fillets in time to thaw them perfectly. Among white-fleshed and not über-flaky fishes, I can get halibut, cod, orange roughy, maybe snapper, maybe rockfish, tilapia, and there’s an Asian (Viet-Thai) grocer here with boatloads of unheard-of (to me) frozen fishes: round scad? boned milkfish, etc.? Probably mostly shallow-water/fresh-water fishes, those last ones.

I have read that including some oilier fishes is desirable, but I’m reluctant. I know in the USA West people favor a Cioppino or sometimes even call it a bouillabaisse–a fish soup with salmon, dungeness crab, clams, etc. Can be quite good, to be sure, but I’m leery of shellfish and strong flavored oilies like salmon. Avoiding shellfish as I would rather not have diners needing to dip their fingers in saffron-tinted stock to pick apart bones and shrimps shells and the like (much as I love and generally don’t mind that).

Further ideas about fish varieties, especially those not so adjacent as, say, cod and halibut, but a little different? Chilean Sea Bass? Still un-PC?



I like halibut or cod (but bass is also good), and I find clams or mussels a must. AKC/lobster is just too expensive now a days so I’ll use shrimp (clean/shell them and use the heads/shells/tails to do a stock) and/or scallops.


What Scott said. I like halibut for the chunks of fish, but grill prawns and scallops separately to add at serving. Clams and mussels are a must for us and never seem to slow diners down.
Their kernels pop out easily enough with nudge of spoon or fork. I personally avoid anything oily or strong flavored.

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I’m with the two gents before my comment.
Ideally for me, no oilies in my b’baisse and clams, mussels, scallops and claws are a must. They add flavor, period. Those gooseneck barnacles mentioned earlier in this thread look like they might work. Some dishes just have to involve fingers getting mussed.

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IMHO - one you have the stock right, the rest is open to interpretation and availability.

Cod in my opinion is tricky in a bouillabaisse type dish because it can go super flakey super easily. So I’d lean more towards the flounders and halibut (flat fishes).

I like monkfish (some don’t) but in a bouillabaisse it holds up really well and benefits from being in the stock.

Snapper depends on what size you can get, I like snapper but if you can only get small fillets they are hard to manage in bouillabaisse. Some of this depends on how much last minute cooking you’re up for and how comfortable you are with fish. A thin filet you may want to poach separately in some of the broth so that it doesn’t break apart in the pot - then just plate into the soup with everything else. A dinner with 8 people . . .that’s too fiddly for me with minor pay off.

You really can use whatever makes you happy. I’m fine with something like salmon in mine (I don’t use the bones/etc for the broth as I do think that gets overwhelming, but just poached in the broth before cooking is fine in my opinion).

I second the monkfish. My copy of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook is currently inaccessible but I believe their version has monkfish. I recommend removing the grayish membrane when chunking the monk. It is very rubbery once cooked.

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As bouillabaisse is a fish soup based on what the fishermen in the south of France caught in the Med, I would stick with saltwater fish and skip anything from freshwater like tilapia. Also no salmon but other oily fish like mackerel I think work. No need to add shellfish. Don’t forget the rouille. I always mix a big spoonful of it into my bowl and smear more on the toast to dunk in the broth.


Why are you leery of shellfish other than diners’ having to shell them at table?

PNW Coonstripe shrimp are at their peak right now, with Dungenness being pretty big and full. All these, and clams and mussels, can be shelled before the soup is assembled. Squid or abalone or oysters are nice.

Silvers are running now, too and their flesh is mild. I had a small one that was caught in the Baker River yesterday–most excellent.

If you’re concerned about fish flaking apart, chunk it and just add it to your hot broth minutes before serving. Or pull some halibut cheeks apart–I like the stringy contrast they add.

Mussels and Manila clam medley tonight in a Thai pepper coconut broth at our house.


Replying to comments so far in the thread I started:

First, thanks for all the thoughts! Dinner is tomorrow, stock is done, and I’ll do some final shopping. So far I have been thawing premium Pacific Cod, Alaskan Halibut, Chilean Sea Bass, and Bay Scallops (without those phosphates, etc.). As availability allows, I might toss in some more last-minute.

I totally second the idea of Monkfish, but I’ve never seen it around here. (I’ve used it often elsewhere.) As to kaleokahu’s question:

“Why are you leery of shellfish other than diners’ having to shell them at table?”

That’s mostly about some people who are more fussy than me and also bringing attending babies. The babies don’t eat bouillabaisse, but they require unpredictable prompt attentions, and preferably not from saffron- and oil-stained hands. Myself, I’m not fussy.

At least I know I’ve got the broth nailed to my taste!

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Monkfish is hard to find, and what I’ve found is it has been frozen for longer than it should be.