Provençale Fish Soup

This Provençale fish soup is made with a fragrant vegetable-infused clam juice broth and tender poached fish. It’s easy and healthy, though you’d never guess from the abundance of flavor.

A white bowl filled with Provençale fish soup with a spoon resting inside.

Every country or region with a coastline boasts its own take on fish soup; our Provence-inspired version is not only easy to make, it features a richly flavored broth fragrant with fennel, paprika, saffron, and orange zest—flavors that complement the delicate seafood. Deglazing the vegetables and spices with wine and bottled clam juice brought out a more balanced flavor, but we wanted even more depth, so we browned some pancetta and cooked the vegetables in the rendered fat for a little smokiness that balanced the citrus aroma. We eventually turned to a more unconventional method for cooking the fish. We placed the fish in the pot, shut off the heat, and let it poach gently. [Editor’s Note: That cooking technique is a keeper. If you’re not certain what to expect from this, consider it a less-expensive, less time-consuming approach to bouillabaisse.]–America’s Test Kitchen

Provençale Fish Soup

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 5 M
  • Serves 6 to 8
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In a Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the oil until shimmering, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the fennel bulb, onion, celery, and salt and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, paprika, pepper flakes, and saffron and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour in the wine, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the water, clam juice, and bay leaves. Bring to simmer and cook until the flavors meld, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves. Nestle the fish into the cooking liquid and then spoon some cooking liquid over the top. Cover the Dutch oven and let the fish sit, off the heat, until the fish flakes apart when gently prodded with a paring knife and registers 135°F (57°C), 8 to 10 minutes.

Gently stir in the parsley, fennel fronds, and orange zest and, if desired, break the fish into large pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, drizzling individual portions with addition oil, if desired.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

This was perfect in my book, because I love nothing better than a delicately prepared fish dish! One of my favorite restaurants in Nashville opened a pop-up seafood market during COVID, so I asked the chef about the fish for this dish, and she recommended red snapper. (Actually in TN, apparently you can’t buy sea bass.)

I love a light broth, especially for summer time, and this started off with aromatics and pancetta, which pack a lot of flavor. I used pinot gris for the dry white wine. The touch of orange zest was really, really beautiful to serve this with—the fish was rich and silky but firm enough to stay whole. Just immersing it in the warm broth for 10 minutes produced the perfect doneness.

I served this with an orange Italian wine called Vej that had similar citrus notes and it was an ideal pairing. I decided not to break up the fish at the beginning, and instead just broke off bits to eat along the broth. It looked so gorgeous I didn’t want to spoil the effect.

This is a great way to prepare Provençal fish soup. The dish delivers all that is promised in the description. The build-up of layers of flavor yields a broth that is perfectly complementary to the fish—neither overpowering or watery.

The method of immersing the raw fish filets off the heat into the hot broth allows the fish to cook thoroughly but not be overdone. My cod filets were perfectly cooked to 135°F in just 10 minutes.

I served it with some boiled potatoes the first time and crusty toasted baguette the second time. It would be nice to add some shrimp and/or mussels as an alternative version. The broth is nicely seasoned, but the fish could be lightly seasoned before being immersed in the liquid. The fillets do not spend enough time in the liquid to absorb much of its flavor and some seasoning would help.


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