Provencal Fish Stew

5 from 5 votes

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A bowl of this is like a tiny little trip to the Mediterranean. It’s unbelievably easy, but absolutely company worthy.

Provencal Fish Stew / Katie Workman / themom100.com / Photo by Carrie Crow

A bowl of this Provencal Fish Stew is like a tiny little trip to the Mediterranean. Provence is a coastal area of France right on the Mediterranean Sea, with beautiful seafood and wonderful local produce, thanks to the sunny summers. This stew is a little taste of that beloved region.

With fennel, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and saffron, this soup has so much South of France flavor. The recipe is unbelievably easy, but I would serve this to guests in a heartbeat. It’s hearty but still so light and clean and simple. Serve some of my Sicilian caponata to start off the meal, and pair this stew with a salad like Endive, Arugula, and Orange Salad.

Provencal Fish Stew with a crouton with red pepper rouille.

A bowl of this Provencal Fish Stew like a tiny little trip to the Mediterranean. It’s unbelievably easy, but absolutely company worthy.

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Ingredients for Provencal Fish Stew

  • Olive oil – The olive oil is divided in two: half of it is used the sauté the vegetables, and the other half is used to sear the fish.
  • Fennel – Make sure to remove the core of the fennel bulb before slicing and cooking. Fennel is one of those ingredients that lends classic Provencal flavor to this stew.
  • Onion and garlic Naturally — it’s a Provencal recipe!
  • Zucchini – Summer squash is also a good option.
  • White wine – Lifts all the flavors and is used to deglaze the sautéed vegetables.
  • Canned tomatoes – I like diced tomatoes here for a good ratio of chunky tomato to juice.
  • Chicken broth – Use a low-sodium broth so you can control the amount of salt in the recipe.
  • Thyme – Use fresh thyme or substitute for 1 teaspoon of dried thyme.
  • Saffron – Boy, does saffron lend its magical flavor to this stew.
  • Yukon Gold potatoes – scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice.
  • Fish – I used cod, but halibut is a great choice. Any firm, flaky white fish will be great.
  • Orange – Use both the zest and the juice so the sweet, fragrant flavor comes through.
  • Black olives – Good oil-cured black olives really make a difference – try Nicoise or Kalamata.
  • Basil – The final Provencal touch.
  • Rouille – This is the red pepper sauce used with the crostini or croutons with this stew. The rouille is optional, but it is the traditional way of serving this dish and is absolutely delicious!

Saffron in Provencal Stew

The saffron is optional mostly because of the cost. Saffron is a wonderful but pricy spice — it’s made from the stamens of crocuses, which might not sound delicious, but it adds a flavor that is at once elusive, rich, aromatic, and deep. And even though it’s expensive, you will see that a little goes a long way. Just a pinch of saffron adds so much dimension to this recipe and any fish or seafood soup or stew.

Provencal fish stew in a pot and a bowl served with rouille.

Red Pepper Rouille with Fish Stew

You can absolutely, positively serve this French fish stew as is, with no extra adornment other than the shredded basil. Traditionally, in the South of France, this type of fish stew or soup is served with rouille, which is a bread-thickened sauce featuring peppers and various seasonings. It comes together quickly and it definitely makes a fish stew dinner feel like a celebration.

Provencal Fish Stew is usually accompanied by bread, and the sauce can be dolloped on the bread then floated in the stew so that the sauce swirls into the liquid. In short, take the extra five minutes to make the rouille!

Provencal fish stew in a pot.

How to Make Provencal Fish Soup

  1. Prepare the veggies and herbs: Chop the fennel, onion, and zucchini, finely mince the garlic, and pull the thyme leaves from the sprigs.
Chopping onions, mincing garlic, and stripping fresh thyme leaves.
  1. Sauté the vegetables: Cook the fennel, onions, zucchini, and garlic, then deglaze the pan with white wine.
  2. Add the liquid: Pour in the tomatoes with their juices, as well as the broth, thyme, and saffron. Then add the potatoes and simmer until tender.
  3. Cook the fish.
  4. Add the fish to the stew: Break up the fish filets into chunks and add them to the pot. Sprinkle in the orange zest, orange juice, and olives.
  5. Serve: Ladle the stew into bowls and top with basil, rouille, and baguette.

Make Ahead and Leftovers

You can make the soup base up to three days ahead of time through Step 2. Store covered in the fridge. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days. Reheat on the stove over low heat just until warmed through.

FAQs

What can you substitute for rouille?

As an unconventional but practical shortcut, you can stir a little bit of harissa or other chili paste into a mixture of sour cream and mayonnaise for a spicy-creamy approximation of rouille.

What is the difference between a fish stew and a fish soup?

Stews are typically cooked at a low temperature with a closed lid, and the result is thicker and chunkier than fish soup. A fish soup might be cooked more quickly and have more broth or liquid than a stew. And stews might be chunkier than soups, which might have more liquid. However, the terms fish soup and fish stew can often be used interchangeably.

What to Serve With Provencal Fish Stew

Provencal Fish Stew with Rouille on a crostini in a white bowl on a tablecloth.

More Provencal Recipes to Try

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5 from 5 votes

Provençal Fish Stew

A bowl of this is like a tiny little trip to the Mediterranean. It’s unbelievably easy, but absolutely company worthy.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 People
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Equipment

Ingredients 

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 small bulb fennel (cored, quartered, and chopped; about 1 cup)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 zucchini (diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • Pinch saffron threads (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes (about 8 ounces total, scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1/2–inch dice)
  • 1 ½ pounds cod, halibut or other flaky white fish
  • 1 orange (zested and juiced)
  • 3 tablespoons halved pitted black olives
  • 3 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves
  • Sliced baguette (to serve)
  • Rouille (to serve)

Instructions 

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the fennel and the onions, and sauté for 5 minutes until they start to become tender. Add the zucchini and the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for another 5 minutes, until all of the vegetables are tender. Add the white wine and stir to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, thyme, and saffron. Bring to a simmer; add the potatoes and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
  • Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper, and sear the filet on both sides, for 5 to 7 minutes per side, until the fish is just barely cooked through (it really depends on the thickness of the fish — if it falls apart a little that's a-ok). Remove and set aside.
  • When cooled slightly, use a fork to break the fish into 1-inch chunks. Add them to the pot along with the orange zest and juice and halved olives, stirring gently to combine.
  • Serve hot with slivered basil on top of each portion, ladled into individual bowls. Spoon some rouille on the slices of baguette and place them on the side or on top of the bowls.

Notes

  • The saffron is optional mostly because of its cost. Saffron is a wonderful but pricy spice – it’s made from the stamens of crocuses, which might not sound delicious, but it adds a flavor that is at once elusive, rich, aromatic, and deep. And even though it’s expensive, you will see that a little goes a long way. Just a pinch of saffron adds so much dimension to the soup and any fish or seafood soup or stew.
  • You can make the soup base up to three days ahead of time, through Step 2. Stor covered in the ridge. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days. Reheat on the stove over low heat just until warmed through.

Nutrition

Calories: 464.34kcal, Carbohydrates: 34.64g, Protein: 39.77g, Fat: 17.84g, Saturated Fat: 2.72g, Cholesterol: 73.14mg, Sodium: 568.22mg, Potassium: 2069.66mg, Fiber: 8g, Sugar: 10.75g, Vitamin A: 700.51IU, Vitamin C: 67.43mg, Calcium: 192.48mg, Iron: 6.75mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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3 Comments

  1. Alison says:

    Fantastic recipe. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Nancy says:

    Love how there’s a WHOLE menu. I don’t have to think — just follow. Gorgeous photos and great sounding wines. Will have to try it all!

  3. Judy Pray says:

    Looks great! Bread+potatoes+tomatoes+wine=my favorite food groups!