Fish stew with roast garlic & saffron

Try this simpler, lighter version of bouillabaisse, a classic fish soup – serve with toasted slices of baguette to mop up the tomato based sauce

  • Prep:1 hrs
    Cook:1 hrs 45 mins
  • Serves 6
  • More effort

Nutrition per serving

  • kcal 345
  • fat 13g
  • saturates 2g
  • carbs 12g
  • sugars 9g
  • fibre 4g
  • protein 32g
  • salt 0.5g


  • 3 whole heads garlic
  • 150ml good olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • few good pinches of flaky sea salt
  • 50ml Pernod
  • good pinch of saffron strands
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 4 celery sticks
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red chilli, seeds left in
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • pinch of saffron
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 50ml Pernod
  • 200ml white wine
  • 750ml passata
  • 3 grey mullet fillets (about 500g in total), skin on, cut into large chunks
  • 300g gurnard fillets, skin on, cut into large chunks
  • 200g prepared squid and tentacles, cleaned and cut into rings
  • juice 1 lemon
  • 4 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
  • toasted slices of baguette, to serve


Get ahead

Everything except the actual cooking of the fish can be done ahead of time. The saffron & garlic paste can be made a week in advance: keep it in a jar in the fridge and give it a good whisk before serving. The tomato base can be made 3 days ahead and kept chilled – in fact the flavour will be better if made ahead. Prepare and portion all your fish the day before and keep it covered in the fridge, ready to poach. If you’re serving toasted slices of baguette, they can be cooked the day before and kept in an airtight container. 

Choosing your fish

Gurnard, grey mullet and squid are all cheap, full of flavour and sustainably caught from our shores. Talk to your fishmonger and ask them to advise what’s best on the day – pollack, sea bass, sea bream or hake would all work well. You can also open some mussels or clams in the soup while the fish cooks. The juice from the shellfish will make the base a bit thinner, but it will still taste great.


Saffron adds a perfumed aroma and a wonderful orange colour to dishes. It is pricey, but a little goes a long way and you don’t need much of it. Always buy saffron strands rather than powdered saffron – the quality is better. 

Using up leftovers

Leftover saffron and garlic paste can simply be stirred through hot pasta for a quick supper.


  1. Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. To make the saffron and garlic paste, cut the whole heads of garlic in half horizontally. Place the garlic heads, cut-side up, on a small baking tray. Drizzle over a little olive oil and season with salt. Cover with foil and bake for 40-50 mins until softened. Remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 15-20 mins until the garlic has turned golden brown.

  2. Meanwhile, make the soup base. Chop the fennel, celery and onion into small dice and thinly slice the red chilli. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the chopped vegetables. Grate the garlic into the pan and add the fennel seeds. Stir well, then cover and sweat for 10 mins. Add the saffron and bay leaves, and cook for a further 10 mins until the vegetables start to soften. Pour in the Pernod and wine, bring to the boil, then add the passata and 400ml water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 45 mins until all of the flavours have started to work together, then remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool a little.

  3. Transfer the soup to a jug blender and blend until smooth, then pass through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan – you may need to do this in batches. If the soup needs thickening, reduce over a medium heat. When it is the consistency of pouring cream, remove from the heat and set aside, or leave to cool and chill in the fridge until needed. The base of the soup can be made 3 days ahead.

  4. Meanwhile, for the paste, pour the Pernod into a small saucepan and add the saffron. Bring to the boil, add the olive oil and warm gently. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

  5. When the garlic is golden brown, remove the tray from the oven and squeeze the cloves out into the bowl of a pestle and mortar. Add a large pinch of flaky sea salt and pound to a paste. Slowly add the saffron-infused olive oil, stirring constantly. Transfer to a clean container and chill until needed.

  6. Bring the soup base to the boil in a large pan, then turn down to a light simmer and taste for seasoning. Add the chunks of prepared fish and squid, and gently poach the fish in the soup for 10 mins, or until it is just cooked. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and parsley. Ladle the soup into bowls, piling up the fish in the centre. Spoon on the saffron and garlic paste and sprinkle over some more parsley. Serve with toasted slices of baguette and the extra saffron and garlic paste on the side.

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