Escape the Holidays with a Breton Fish Stew

The stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a period dedicated to adding pounds and elevating our blood sugar levels with platters of game and ham, casseroles filled with cheesy anything, and trays of cookies, tarts, and cakes swimming in cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. It is a happy, festive time. But every once in a while we need a break. Is it possible to have a soul-satisfying meal that is also healthy and nutritious? Yes. I look to the far west coast of France to Brittany, famous for its butter and buttery cookies, but also home to a large part of the nation’s fishing population. When the trawlers pull into shore loaded with fresh fish and seafood it is likely that a steaming bowl of fish stew will grace the table that evening.


Only a few ingredients are needed to make a Breton fish stew—which we would call a soup in the U.S.—and you probably have most of them in your pantry. Potatoes, onions, celery, and leeks or shallots form the foundation and backbone of the stew.


Any potato but Russet will do. Russets will fall apart and turn to mush. Yukon Gold work well, and their buttery yellow hue adds some nice color to the dish.


Very fresh fish—off the boat that morning if possible—is important to avoid and overly fishy concoction.

The kicker, the element that takes this soup from merely delicious to profound, is the vinaigrette that is drizzled on top of the soup in the bowl. It brightens the broth and brings out the buttery flavors of the fish. Try it. You’ll like it.

December 2013 001


  • 2 T. salted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 celery stock, split down the center, thinly sliced
  • 4 C. fish stock
  • 2 C. water
  • 4 stems fresh thyme, tied together with string
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound all-purpose potatoes, like Yukon Gold, quartered, cut into ½” slices
  • 1 to 2 pounds very fresh cod filets
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 T. quality cider vinegar
  • 6 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic croutons (optional)


1.  Set a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat, add butter. When butter has melted add onions, shallots, and celery, stir to coat with butter, and cook until softened but not browned.

2.  Add fish stock, water, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and cook for an additional 7-10 minutes.

3. Carefully lay the cod filet(s) on top of the soup mixture.  Cook for 10-12 minutes until the fish is just opaque all the way through, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain a simmer.

4. Remove from heat and stir gently to break up fish into large pieces.

5.  While soup is simmering, make vinaigrette with the vinegar, oil, mustard, salt, and pepper.

6.  To serve: Using a large spoon lift pieces of fish and potatoes and place in individual serving bowls, then ladle broth over them.  Sprinkle with parsley and vinaigrette to taste (will depend on the size of your bowls). Serve with garlic croutons.

Servings: This will depend on the size of your bowls, but estimate anywhere from six first courses to two large dinner bowls.


6 thoughts on “Escape the Holidays with a Breton Fish Stew

  1. Love it. This looks so good and with some tandoor naan bread for dipping and a salad would satisfy any guest. Adding a drizzle of vinegrette is a new thing for me to try. Sue

    1. I had it again last night. The naan is a great idea. I didn’t serve bread with the soup, instead following it with cheeses and a baguette. It made a very nice, easy Friday night dinner.

  2. That sound delicious! I will make this on Wednesday when I can get a nice fresh fish at the market in La Fleche. Will also ask him for some fish bones to make my own broth and serve without the croutons. Thanks…

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