Seafood Bourride: A delicious, creative mix of Mediterranean flavors

by Terry B on July 22, 2009

There are countless variations on bourride, a traditional Mediterranean seafood soup/stew. This one, prepared by our friend Mellen and served over Israeli couscous, was the best thing we ate by far on a weekend trip to Washington, DC. Recipe below.


When I started Blue Kitchen way back in the fall of aught-six, I had great plans for having occasional guest cooks do posts here. So far, I’ve failed miserably. Aside from Marion [a co-conspirator here, really, not a guest], I’ve only had one guest cook, the lovely Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen, who made her delicious Brazilian Rice and Beans. When I smelled this wonderfully fragrant stew percolating in Mellen’s kitchen, I knew it was high time I made good on my plans.

Our friends Mellen and Steve live in a beautiful 1800s house in the historic, convenient and cosmopolitan DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC. The neighborhood is home to foreign embassies, ethnic restaurants, art galleries and shops—and is the center of DC’s vibrant nightlife. So when they invited us to come visit them for a long weekend, it took very little arm twisting to get us there. Mellen and Steve—and Mellen’s kids Madeleine and Taylor—were gracious hosts. Madeleine even gave up her room for us. The whole weekend, conversation flowed like wine. So did the wine, often on their rooftop deck.

In today’s second post, I’ll talk about some of the DC stuff we did on our visit, with a focus on food. But now I’m going to concentrate on this delicious seafood stew/soup. A bourride [boo-REED] is a Mediterranean fish soup, something like a bouillabaisse but with a consistency more like stew. There are probably as many variations on it as there are cooks who make it, and options vary wildly, from suspiciously quick and simple to complex and slow-cooking. Many use thick slices of toasted bread as a base, others call for potatoes. Mellen uses large, pearly Israeli couscous. One common thread among all recipes, though, is making the most of plentiful fresh seafood in the region.

So now, I’ll turn the kitchen over to Mellen and let her tell you about the dish that topped everything else we ate in DC last weekend:

This is a concept, not a recipe. There are endless variations, and you should feel free to substitute whatever you see fit. This is my favorite version, after trying many variations over years of sampling similar stews all over the south of France and Italy. The key to this dish is to keep tasting it as the flavors build until it seems just perfect to you.

Mellen’s Seafood Bourride
Serves 8

1/2 pound small shrimp
1 cup finely chopped white onion
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
kernels from one ear of white corn
1/4 cup of good olive oil
1/4  cup unsalted sweet butter [1/2 stick]
1 fillet of Chilean sea bass, skin removed and cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 pound bay scallops
1 calamari steak [about 1/2 pound], sliced into strips, or 1/2 pound of calamari rings
4 cups seafood broth [see Kitchen Notes for alternatives]
2 Kraft chicken bouillon cubes
750 ml [one bottle] Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
3 cups panna cucina [a thick Italian cream—see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 fistful each, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fresh oregano, shredded sweet basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 pound cherrystone clams
2 tablespoons [or more] saffron threads
Grey sea salt and pepper
16 ounces Israeli couscous

Peel the shrimp and set aside. Put the peels in a small pot, cover with water and cook for 10 minutes on low heat. Set aside.

In a large skillet, sauté the onion, garlic, celery, red bell pepper and corn kernels in the olive oil over low heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the sautéed vegetables to a large pot. Add the butter, Chilean sea bass, calamari and scallops to the pot and cook over gentle heat for 5 minutes. Take the water with shrimp peels off the stove and drain shrimp broth into the pot. Add the seafood broth and bouillon cubes and wine. Turn up the heat a bit and simmer for about 10 minutes to let the alcohol cook off. Add the panna cucina, turn heat down low and stir to incorporate. Add the red pepper flakes, lemon zest and all the herbs and spices, except the saffron, and let sit on the stove for at least 30 minutes on very low heat, stirring and tasting every few minutes.

Ten minutes before serving, add the shrimp and cherrystone clams. Meanwhile, cook the Israeli couscous until tender and drain (if you want extra flavor, which you probably don’t need with this dish, you can cook it in bouillon). Add the saffron to the stew. When the clams are all open, it’s ready to serve.

Serve the stew over the couscous. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves.

Kitchen Notes

Seafood broth. I sometimes make my own, but you can also buy prepared broth. The fish broth brand I use is Kitchen Basics. I think Wolfgang Puck also makes some. You can substitute water and bouillon cubes [chicken or seafood or even vegetable, I suppose].

Panna cucina. This Italian cream has the consistency of mascarpone or whipped cream cheese. You can substitute crème fraîche or heavy or whipping cream, but if you do, cut back a bit on the amount of broth you put in. The stew should have a medium to heavy soup consistency.

Israeli couscous. This is a larger version of the typical tiny couscous semolina, about the size of a cooked grain of barley. If you can’t find it, you can substitute any sturdy rice [like Arborio] or even barley grains or a pasta like linguine. Don’t use regular couscous—it will be too mealy in this dish.

Okay, it’s Terry again, with one more thank you to our friends. And to Mellen, for this amazing recipe. I have to tell you, writing this post has been the most pleasant torture—reading the recipe and staring at the photo, I can absolutely taste and smell this heavenly bourride. One last word about Mellen: Besides being a passionate cook, she runs Grammarians, Inc., providing writing, editing, proofreading and marketing communications services to Fortune 500 companies and government organizations.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Ginny July 22, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Delicious! I really want to try this soon… my boyfriend loves seafood dishes like this… thanks for the post!

Allison Lemons July 22, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Wow, this looks amazing! Very simliar to a dish I had at La Boqueria in Barcelona. Great recipe to play around with – I’m thinking halibut instead of the sea bass, and I’d love to add some more seasonal vegetables like tomatoes, and maybe some gypsy peppers instead of the bell peppers. Thanks for the post!

Craig Mathews July 22, 2009 at 8:02 pm

It’s true ! Ruth and I had dinner with Mellen and Steve just last evening. This extraordinary dish was our main course (although she made a superb appetizer too). After a good many years of enjoying the bourride in its various forms throughout southern France and southern Italy, I can truthfully say that this is the very best. Try it as soon as you can !

Laura July 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Terry this is such a wonderful post! And that photo really does get my salivary glands going, especially those little pockets of butter or whatever delicious fat it is floating in the sauce, I have a sudden urge to run up to the fish counter at Citarella and buy all of these ingredients immediately. And I have to admit I’ve never heard of a bourride, and I’ve certainly never heard of panna cucina, so this has been quite the educational day! Might have to go see if Di Palo’s carries the elusive Italian dairy product…

Terry B July 23, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Thanks, Ginny! Sounds like your boyfriend cooks too—I love the idea of the showdown you’ve created, the two of you cooking different dishes with the same key ingredient.

Allison Lemons—As Mellen said, one of the beautiful things about this dish is its infinite variety. If you do make your own version of this, I hope you’ll post it.

Craig Mathews—Aren’t they just the most wonderful hosts?

Thanks, Laura! Oh, yes, the butter—and the panna cucina—gave this dish a satisfying richness. And the saffron and various herbs gave it such depth. I’m salivating—again—just thinking of it. And if anyone can find cool things to do with the panna cucina, I’m thinking it would be you.

Phil Stansfield July 23, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Hi Terry,
Can’t believe you haven’t had a guest chef posting. Ive posted a link on my blog to Blue Kitchen, won’t set the world alight though, no one looks at it apart from friends and family. I used to cook for a living and enjoy tinkering around with your recipes, that’s what cookings all about.
French omelettes tonight!

Terry B July 23, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Thanks, Phil! “Omelette night” sounds like a great tradition, and your omelette looks and sounds delicious. I also wouldn’t mind a little Gruyere or mushrooms in it.

Mellen July 24, 2009 at 12:20 am


I have to add that we served it to Ruth and Craig on Tuesday over orzo – something that had never crossed my mind (though linguine had), and it was wonderful. It was more “slippery” in consistency than with the Israeli couscous, but still had everyone lifting the bowl to slurp the last drop.

And I added a finely chopped yellow heirloom tomato that added just the tiniest hint of sweetness.

FDL July 25, 2009 at 3:43 am

Love the fluid idea of this statement in your post: “This is a concept, not a recipe.” Dish looks amazing. Great post.

FYI – Now following you on Twitter.

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet July 26, 2009 at 1:14 am

WOW Terry, every time I come here, you blow me away with one amazing dish after another! I’ve never tried this before but I could take a plate and fork and dig into right now especially since I’m really hungry right now and all I have are my leftover hot wings! LOL!!!

Miakoda July 26, 2009 at 2:10 am

Very beautiful, for a concept! :)

Patricia Scarpin July 30, 2009 at 2:14 pm

I can’t eat too much seafood, unfortunately, but my hubby is absolutely nuts for all kinds – paired with rice I know he would not resist and ask for seconds… 😀

Looks delish, Terry!

Terry B July 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Mellen—I like the variations you did for Ruth and Craig, but I have to say, you’ve made me an Israeli couscous convert.

FDL—I think most recipes should be regarded as concepts. Experimenting is a big part of the fun of cooking.

Thanks, Kim!

Thanks for stopping by, Miakoda. A quick visit to your blog tells me you’re every bit as eclectic as I am in your cooking.

Thanks, Patricia! I’m sure you would do a dish like this proud.

Deb Toner July 14, 2010 at 1:17 pm

So, I am “googling” seafood bourride to find out its’ story. I get tons of links; for some reason I don’t click on the first one but go down to the fourth link and click on it.

Did I mention that the reason I am googling it is because I have been invited to dinner and this will be served?

I look at the photo and despite it being just after 6 a.m. I find myself staring at what looks like heaven in a bowl. Then I look up at the blurb above the picture. This is when it really gets good….

As I start to read, I almost fall off my chair. No, not from being faint from hunger but from the fact that my dinner invitation is from none other than Mellen!! I mean, what a small, small world!

In a few short weeks, we will be feasting on this wonderful dish, atop Mellen’s rooftop oasis. I was so looking forward to this, now – well, what can I say? It can’t happen soon enough.

Terry B July 14, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Deb—As Steven Wright says, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” What a wonderful coincidence and an amazing story. This wonderful dish, with great conversation and a sensational rooftop view… you are in for a real treat, Deb!

Deb Toner August 22, 2010 at 3:12 am

Reporting back – oh my! What a night it was! It was hot and sultry [sounds better than saying hot and humid as a swamp] night, our first in DC. We set out to find the rooftop oasis that is luckily a short walk from our hotel.

We step inside and meet our hosts for the evening, Mellen and Steve. We are wisked off to the kitchen to watch the final steps of prep for our evening of bliss. It smells divine and looks even better.

We load up trays with the necessitities and head upstair. The garden is a delight, even if the pool has sprung a tiny hole after some strong winds toppled a few things and some glass shards did their dirty deed.

As the sun sets, and it is a beautiful setting, we share stories and some adult beverages. And then it’s time: the bourride is served and it is wonderous. Silky, rich with grouper, scallops, 2 kinds of clams, calamari, shrimp in a broth that is nothing short of velvet. The couscous is joyously rolling around my mouth, the taste trumping the texture, but still fighting for recognition.

We were absolutely in love, with the bourride but also with the kind hosts, Mellen and Steve.

What a way to start a stay in the nation’s capital. Thanks for giving me a place to share our experince, Terry!

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