The Block Island Times

A tried-and-true version of the classic bouillabaisse

By Becky and Mike Ballard | Feb 20, 2012

Martha Wilson served this bouillabaisse for a special lunch a while ago. So many good recipes are the ones that are passed along from person to person, and this one is a good example. Doris Hassinger gave it to Martha. Both cooks made their own variations depending on their particular preferences. The result is a very satisfying, savory stew full of good things, and just right for a cold, winter night. All you need to accompany it is a good bread, a crisp salad and, if you like, a cold glass of white wine.

This bouillabaisse is a good version of a classic with just the right blend of fresh vegetables and herbs. The saffron and fennel add an extra depth of flavor. You can choose whether you want to include all of the seafoods listed or only a few items. Remember, whatever you use should equal the total amount of seafood in this recipe. A good combination of texture and color is best, but cost and availability may make the decision for you.

It may be surprising that the lobster is not the costliest ingredient. Saffron, described as “the most expensive spice in the world,” is kept under lock and key in many grocery stores and only obtained by asking a staff member. Maybe the cost is understandable if you know that saffron is made up of the hand-picked stigmas of a flower, the saffron crocus, and that 90 percent of the world’s production comes from Iran. We’ve put saffron in the optional category, but urge you to try it if the budget allows.

This meal is not one that can be pulled off the pantry shelf. Just make the shopping fun and interesting, and try to pick the freshest ingredients you can find. Upon a quick check at the Block Island Grocery almost all of the ingredients except fresh lobster were found. John Grant sells lobsters off the Linda & Laura in Old Harbor, or if you happen to be on the mainland, both Champlin’s and Ferry Wharf seafood markets are within a few steps of the ferry landing and carry a wide range of fresh seafood.


From Martha Wilson and Doris Hassinger

¼ cup olive oil

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 leek, diced

½ teaspoon thyme

½ bay leaf

2 cups crushed tomatoes

1 cup clam juice

1 cup dry white wine

½ teaspoon crushed fennel or anise seeds.

¼ teaspoon saffron (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

12 mussels in their shells, scrubbed (optional)

12 shrimp, shelled

12 scallops

1 pound cod, cut in pieces

Meat from 1 small lobster, cut in bite-sized pieces (optional)

6.5-ounce can chopped clams (optional)

Heat oil; add celery, onion, garlic, leek, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook five minutes. Add tomatoes, clam juice, wine, fennel, saffron, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook 15 minutes. Add seafood and cook 10 to 15 minutes longer or until seafood is just cooked and tender.

Serves four.

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