Riviera Fish Soup

This week, French Fridays is taking the chill off the frigid winter that has hit the US. Our pick was for a luscious fish soup… Riviera Fish Soup to be exact! When I read this recipe through, honestly I wasn’t thrilled. A pureed fish soup! Really? When will I learn to trust Dorie?
Riviera Fish Soup recipe

Last week we drove to Atlanta to visit my son’s family. We picked a week in between snowstorms to head south. The whole east coast has been hammered with bitter cold weather and snow. Trying to co-ordinate our trip was a bit tricky. We spent a few lovely days visiting with my grandsons, son and daughter-in-law. Then we headed to Florida. The first morning I woke with a stomach bug! Frankly, I never thought I’d be blogging with French Fridays this week. Thank goodness it was short lived!

Back to the soup! Dorie calls for a whole red snapper, including the head! Just in case you haven’t read how squeamish I am about fish…that was not going to happen! To tell the truth, I couldn’t even find a whole fish. The only red snapper that was available were filets in the frozen section of the seafood department. Although my soup didn’t get the benefit of the whole fish (head and bones), it was incredibly flavorful!

A luscious soup to keep you warm this week
A luscious soup to keep you warm this week

This soup was pretty straightforward. Sautéing all of your aromatics until softened, adding the fish and cooking a bit longer. At this point the tomatoes, tomato paste and saffron are added, cooked a bit longer, then add the liquids, bouquet garni and pastis.  Cover and cook for about 40 minutes. Sounds easy… and it was!

One of the additions I was skeptical about was the Ricard (anise flavored liquor). I adore licorice-anise flavor, and grew up in a family where Arak was served readily in my grandparents home. The drink’s derivatives include Raki in Turkey, Ouzo in Greece, Pastis in France and Sambuca in Italy.

But in soup? I proceeded cautiously, and was surprised at how subtle the flavor was. In the end, I served some at the table to be added to the soup.

The soup was not what I expected, but turned out to be a truly fabulous dish that I will now be adding to my repertoire. Who knows, maybe even a whole fish will find it’s way into my kitchen!  In the end, this beautiful red pureed soup was thick, warming and delicious! Bill and I both loved it! Would you believe that Bill suggested we buy some crabmeat to place on top of our bowls of soup for dinner tonight… I love that idea! Happy Friday everyone!

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan “Around My French Table”


  • 1 whole red snapper, about 2 lbs (I used frozen red snapper fillets…no bones or mess);
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil;
  • 2 medium onions, chopped;
  • 2 carrots, chopped;
  • 4 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, crushed;
  • 1 small fennel bulb, chopped;
  • 28 oz canned plum tomatoes;
  • ¼ cup tomato paste;
  • 3 pinches saffron threads;
  • 3 tbsp Pastis (I used Ricard);
  • 1 wide strip of orange zest with pith removed.

Bouquet garni:

  • 2 parsley springs;
  • 2 thyme leaves;
  • 1 bay leaf;
  • tie together or wrap in cheesecloth;
  • salt and pepper;
  • Piment d’Espelette or cayenne.

Recipe Directions

  1. In a Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onion, carrots, garlic and fennel. Cook slowly, stirring once or twice for about 10 minutes until softened.
  2. Add fish chunks, and stir. Cook for another 5 minutes, if mixture looks dry add the other tablespoon of olive oil.
  3. Drain and save the liquid from the tomatoes in a measuring cup. Set aside. Use scissors or a knife to cut the tomatoes (I squeezed them in my hand, to break them up). Then add them to the pot, along with the tomato paste and saffron. Stir and cook for a few more minutes.
  4. Add enough liquid to the reserved tomato liquid to make 6 cups of water, and add to the pot; stir.
  5. Add a tablespoon of the pastis, bouquet garni, salt and pepper, and piment d’espelette or cayenne.
  6. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cook uncovered for about 40 minutes.
  7. Very carefully add the soup to a blender or food processor in batches, and puree. (Make sure you Don’t put the lid on tight if the soup is hot… it could explode. I left the center cap off the lid of my blender and just held it in place.) If you use a whole fish with bones, remove the head and bouquet garni before you process. As you puree the soup add to a clean pot. Reheat and serve.
  8. When serving, stir an additional tablespoon of pastis into each bowl. Serve with toasted bread, that was brushed with olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove. I also served mine with some Aioli, as Dorie suggested.


Definition: Arak is an Arabic word that refers to Lebanon’s most popular alcoholic drink after beer and wine, a usually 100-proof distillate of late-fall golden grapes mixed with aniseed.

The resulting drink, clear in its pure form but milky when mixed with water, has the smooth, refreshing taste of licorice and perhaps peppermint. It is the favorite drink of Sunday brunchers, who drink arak in accompaniment of a three or four-hour meal, the meze, itself an battalion of small dishes that compete for the palate’s attention.

It’s traditional for eastern Mediterranean societies, including those in Jordan, Syria, Israel, Palestine and even cheaters as far east of the Mediterranean as Iraq, to claim to be either the originators of arak or its best producers. Good arak, however, is synonymous with Lebanese arak.

The drink’s various derivatives include raki in Turkey, ouzo in Greece, pastis in France, and sambuca in Italy.

  1. You were wish to go with out bones. I was guessing that you also grew up with an anise flavored drink too. I loved the taste in the soup too…yes, we are still bitter cold here in the North. Glad you are warm.

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