Provencal fish soup recipe

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Every country with a coastline boasts its own version of fish soup; our Provence-inspired version is not only easy to make, it also boasts a richly flavored broth fragranced with fennel, paprika, saffron, and orange zest. We chose thick cod fillets, wanting a firm fish that would not break apart too easily. The problem then came in building the soup base. Initial tests with premade fish stock produced soups that overpowered the fish’s own mild flavor. To cook the fish perfectly, we left it in big slices so that they wouldn’t break apart too much. We tried simmering the fish over low heat, but when we employed direct heat, the fish was overcooked by the time it was served. We decided on a more unconventional method: We placed the fish in the pot, shut off the heat, and let it poach gently. This technique was undeniably successful and the fish was perfectly cooked. Finally, we had a hearty, fragrant fish soup with perfect broth and perfect fish. This method lends itself well to making ahead, as all the work is in building a flavorful broth, which can be done ahead of time. Halibut can be substituted for the cod.

  • Yield: 8 Servings
  • Total Time: 1 Hour 10 Minutes


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 6 ounces pancetta, chopped fine
  • 1 fennel bulb, 2 tablespoons fronds minced, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Pinch saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 pounds skinless cod fillets, 1 inch thick, sliced crosswise into 6 equal pieces
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
How to Make It
  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in fennel pieces, onion, celery, and 1½ teaspoons salt and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir in garlic, paprika, pepper flakes, and saffron and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in water, clam juice, and bay leaves. Bring to simmer and cook until flavors meld, 15 to 20 minutes. Off heat, discard bay leaves.
  3. Nestle cod into cooking liquid, cover, and let sit until fish flakes apart when gently prodded with paring knife and registers 140 degrees, 8 to 10 minutes. Gently stir in parsley, orange zest, and fennel fronds and break fish into large pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, drizzling individual portions with extra oil.

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