Quick Recipes and Easy

Classic Dishes of Provence – Soupe de Poissons

Soupe de Poissons
(Provençal Fish Soup)

Ah, the wonderful fish soups of Provence! You can find versions and variants of this soup all along the Mediterranean coast, and in many places inland as well. Served from its own tureen, with the traditional toasted croutons, grated Gruyere and sauce rouille, it’s always hot, spicy, filling and satisfying, and makes an ideal precursor to a lighter main course of plainly grilled fish or seafood.

Do try it!

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

1 kg fresh fish, cleaned, scaled and cut into pieces (You can use a combination of red mullet, sea bass, monkfish, John Dory, brill, red snapper, eel, etc., but don’t use delicate white fish as the flavour will be overwhelmed and lost);

2 tablespoons olive oil;

2 medium onions;

2 medium leeks;

2 cloves garlic;

6 large ripe tomatoes;

1 teaspoon tomato purée;

1 bay leaf;

1 sprig fresh thyme;

½ teaspoon saffron;

salt and freshly-ground black pepper;

1 glass white wine;

2 teaspoons pastis;

sauce rouille (see recipe below)


Start by preparing the vegetables. Peel and chop the onions. Slice the leeks. Peel and crush the garlic. Chop the tomatoes (skins, stalks and all).

In a large, heavy-bottomed casserole dish sweat the onions, leeks and garlic in the olive oil until softened and lightly browned.

Add the roughly chopped tomatoes, the tomato purée, the bay leaf, the sprig of thyme and the glass of white wine. Stir well together.

Add the pieces of fish.

Cook all together, stirring frequently, until the fish starts to soften.

Add the saffron, and enough water to just cover the fish.

Bring to the boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to the surface.

Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor (you’ll probably have to do this in two or more stages) and whiz it all up together. Then pass the whole lot through a large metal sieve, pressing down well on the fish and vegetable debris to extract maximum flavour.

Return to the pan, add the two teaspoons of pastis and reheat.

Serve very hot with the traditional accompaniments of lightly-toasted French bread, grated Gruyere cheese and sauce rouille (see recipe below).

Spread the slices of toasted bread with the rouille, cover with grated cheese and add to the soup, pushing the bread below the surface of the soup to soften and absorb all the flavours.

Sauce Rouille:

The traditional partner to bouillabaisse and soupe de poisons, this fiery, rust-coloured condiment has a multitude of versions and variations. Some people add potatoes; some add breadcrumbs; some add saffron; some add pounded red mullet or rascasse livers!

Rouille always needs more than a hint of heat. This can be provided by dried red chillies, by cayenne pepper or by the North African harissa paste – but heat there must be!

This recipe is sufficient for about 8 servings of soupe de poisons.


3 plump cloves garlic;
3 small dried red chilli peppers;
1 egg yolk;
1 small potato, peeled and cooked;
1 teaspoon French mustard;
150ml olive oil;
sea salt.


Peel the garlic. Remove the seeds from the chilli peppers, and chop them (the peppers, not the seeds!)

With a pestle and mortar (or a food processor!) pound the garlic with a pinch of sea salt until it becomes a smooth paste.

Add the cooked potato, the mustard and the chilli peppers. Pound all these together until smooth. Stir the egg yolk in well. Start adding the oil, drop by drop, as if making mayonnaise.

If the result seems too thick, it can be thinned down with a small fish stock – or just with boiling water.

An alternative method is to add a teaspoon of fiery North African harissa paste to 150ml aioli (garlic mayonnaise). But the first method is probably the best.

For more information on the food, wine, restaurants and recipes of Provence please check out the author’s website at: cafe-de-provence.com cafe-de-provence.com

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