Chef's Seminar Food Vol. 25 No. 10

Marseille Bouillabaisse-Chef Daniel Drexler


Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish soup whose origins are tied to the port city of Marseille in southern France. The ancient Greeks who founded Marseille in 600 B.C., brought their cooking traditions, including their traditional fish stew known as ‘kakavia” which may have given birth to bouillabaisse.

Historically, Marseille fishermen prepared this hearty fish soup as a meal, using the bonier fish they caught that fine restaurants usually rejected. The fish bones were used to prepare the soup, and different types of fish added to complete the dish.

The word bouillabaisse is a compound of a Provencal dialect to describe how the dish is prepared: bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (to reduce heat and simmer). The process takes days; this is slow food in its truest form.

What distinguishes bouillabaisse from other fish soups is the fish- usually three types of Mediterranean species -the Provençal herbs used in the broth, and the preparation itself. The broth made from fish bones is slowly simmered over two days. Traditional bouillabaisse is served with an accompaniment of rouille, a creamy, savory saffron, garlic, sauce, and slices of toasted baguette. Marseille bakes a house-made saffron walnut bread.

Chef Daniel Drexler recommends pairing a Provence rosé with his Bouillabaisse

Daniel Drexler, Executive Chef for Marseille restaurant in New York City, shares this recipe.

Marseille Bouillabaisse- Chef Daniel Drexler

Key ingredients:

  • Fennel
  • Spanish onions
  • Saffron
  • Pernod
  • Oranges
  • Coriander seeds
  • Star anise
  • Paprika
  • Armagnac
  • White wine
  • Thyme 
  • Rosemary
  • Fish  bones (Chef Drexler recommends using the bones of the fish used in the actual dish, in this recipe bass bones)
  • Lobster heads

It takes two days prepare the stock. “You can’t rush a good bouillabaisse,” underscored Chef Drexler.

Day One

  1. To start the bouillabaisse, heavily sear the lobster heads in a rondeau and take them out. Then add the fish bones for about 5 minutes on both sides.
  2. Sweat out the vegetables with the coriander and saffron until the onions are golden and sweet with its natural sugars (slow and low temperature).
  3. Once the onions are golden and sweet, add the paprika and tomato paste and cook that until it is almost dry but not burning.
  4. Once the tomato paste and vegetables are dry, add the Pernod / Armagnac and reduce.
  5. Add the white wine and orange peels and cook that until the alcohol is evaporated. Then add water, cover, and bring up to a boil for 5 minutes
  6. After liquid has boiled shut off oven and add the aromatics in (thyme, rosemary)

Day Two 

  1. Now that you have the base to the bouillabaisse, the next day repeat the process with only the onions, lobster heads, alcohol, and coriander.
  2. When you do the process for the second day, make sure to reduce by half and pass everything through the food mill.

Cooking the fish (the most important part):

Depending on all the sizes of the different shellfish and fish I usually start with:

  1. Mussels in the bouillabaisse sauce 
  2. Bass
  3. Scallops (depending on the size I sometimes like to score them not only for the stunning presentation it gives but also helps with the even caramelization and cooking).
  4. Shrimp: I start off with a sear, then add them to the mussels in the bouillabaisse broth.

Rouille Sauce:

  • Saffron
  • White wine
  • Bouillabaisse broth
  • Egg yolks 
  • Garlic confit 
  • Chili powder
  • Olive oil
  1. Bloom the saffron and chili powder in some white wine until all the aroma comes out and the color is red, then strain (very well)
  2. In a robot coup, I start off the with egg yolks and olive oil until it’s a thick consistency
  3. Loosen the egg yolk mixture with the saffron that has been infused in white wine
  4. Once the mixture is loosened once again, add the garlic confit to thicken it, and finally add the bouillabaisse broth to create the end product

Presenting the dish: 

In a round bowl…

  1. Plate the bass first, directly in the center as it’s the STAR of the plate 
  2. Next the mussels
  3. 1 shrimp in between every mussel
  4. 2 scallops on opposite sides of each other 
  5. Bouillabaisse broth poured table side
  6. Served on the side is some rouille and at Marseille, we serve it with a saffron walnut bread that is made in-house 

What wine to pair with Bouillaibaisse?

Marseille’s Beverage Director Aviram Turgemen recommends a classic Provence rosé like Sainte Magdeleine 2020, AOC Côtes de Provence (importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants). After all, what grows together, goes together, and nothing speaks “Provence” like a rosé!

Marseille is located at 630 9th Ave, New York, NY 10036

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An engaging speaker and writer, Melanie Young hosts the weekly national radio shows, The Connected Table Live, featuring conversations with global thought leaders in wine, food, spirits and hospitality (a Feedspot Top 10 Food & Drink Podcasts for 2021), and Fearless Fabulous You, a lifestyle show for and about women (both on iHeart and more than 30 other podcast platforms). Young has contributed articles on wine, spirits, food, and culinary travel to Wine Enthusiast, Seven Fifty Daily, Wine4Food and Jewish Week. She is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Wine Media Guild, and Women of the Vine & Spirits. Young’s former marketing and events agency, M Young Communications, worked with global wine, food organizations, publishing companies and nonprofits. She had an integral role in the creation, launch and management of The James Beard Foundation Awards, New York Restaurant Week, and Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund (2001) which raised funds to provide for the families of restaurant workers killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Instagram @theconnectedtable

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