There’s no better way to celebrate the start of summer than with a fish soup.
Especially summer in South Florida, where we’re all macho about the high heat index and humidity level. Hot broth to match hot temperatures? We can handle it in the Sunshine State.
Be tough, now.
Be a purist.
This is not the time to skimp or cut corners.
This is the time to make Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud proud and do the thing from scratch.
Anyhow, you’re not in a seafood-obsessed culinary culture, so, chances are you’d be hard-pressed to find seafood stock on aisle 7.
Roll up your sleeves and make it yourself.
You can do it if I did.
The lazy cook, remember?
I’m lucky though. Living in the South Florida suburbs does have its perks.
Even though my husband fantasizes about picking up and moving the family to a small town in the middle of the Rocky Mountains somewhere.
To him it sounds cheaper, romantic and grand.
Except I hate high altitude baking challenges, the cold, and when I can’t hear four languages being spoken by four different couples in one grocery aisle. That’s a South Florida perk, and having grown up as a Third Culture Kid, that feels like home.
Two minutes from my house, in said strip mall, I can find an Indian shop, an Italian supermarket and a Chinese market. For this dish, I head straight to the Chinese.
My daughter enjoys going with me, not only for exotic snacks of dried shrimp flakes, but to empathize with the panicked turtles and frogs waiting to be bought for stew. She realizes there are some hazards to accompanying me, like trying to avoid savvy crayfish that have escaped their Styrofoam jail cell and are attempting to casually crawl out the front door. Her pinkie toe almost became collateral damage for the last escapee but I shoved her into a box of Chinese bitter melon and she was safe. After that, I believe she stopped wearing sandals there.
I love it because of the fish.
Loads of it.
All sizes, all types.
I can’t tell you what they all are, I’d have to be an expert fishmonger or read Mandarin.
But I’ve never let anything become a barrier when food is involved and find that an over-enthusiastic smile and generous finger pointing serve me just fine.
I get several fish heads for my fish soup.
And lots of fish.
There are clams to be bought and mussels to scrub.
The fishmonger hacks away graciously, giving me several plastic bundles crammed with shells and fresh seafood treasures swimming in ocean and blood.
This is what gets me going, in case you’re wondering.
Back home I pull out my two biggest pots.
One is crowded with the heads, onions, leeks, carrots, celery and dried laurel leaves. If I have some forgotten white wine, I throw it in there too.
Plenty of water, of course, and time. The more, the tastier.
The house fills with the aroma of fish.
If you are pregnant, maybe you should go to the mall or something.
When your pot has simmered long enough, if you are a true purist, you will let it cool, sit overnight in the refrigerator, heat it up again the next day and run it through a sieve and proclaim the stock ready to use in your soup.
But I am not that pure a purist, no.
Plus I want this soup now!
So, I skip the overnight step and jump to the sieve.
Adding the rest of my fish, clams, mussels, oh and shrimp! How could I forget the shrimp?
I bought the ones with the head.
I have a theory that boiling shrimp brains makes for a tastier broth.
Studies will show I am correct.
So, if you find shrimp with heads, get them. If you live in the mountains in a small town, I guess use the frozen headless kind.
All this simmers and bubbles and I jump around giddy and joyous, perhaps clasping a chilled glass of Vinho Verde, Portugal’s trinity of cheap, delicious and summer and pull out a crusty loaf of bread, (which I would have skipped over to the Italian market and bought.) Add some tomatoes and tomato sauce to the stock. Maybe a bit more white wine.
It’s now time to add parsley.
Green makes food pop and gives it an extra peppery bite.
Call the pregnant one and tell her to come back from the mall.
The meal is almost ready.
Spoon it into bowls and add all the goodies floating within.
Some folks drizzle olive oil on top or squeeze half a lemon.
My husband kills those people.
He slurps it straight up.
For my own personal safety, I will not reveal my preference.
Seafood soup and summer promise fun and family and dizzying deliciousness.
Give it a try.
- (Inspired by the great Silver Palate Cookbook (long live Sheila Lukins!))
- First let’s do the fish stock:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup carrots, chopped (don’t bother peeling)
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
- 6 cups of water, or more, to cover the fish eyes that will be staring at you
- 2 cups white wine
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ cup parsley, no need to chop
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- heads of 2 large fish (salmon) or 4-6 small fish (snapper, flounder, pompano)
- Now for the soup:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 16 oz. tomato sauce
- 2 cups tomatoes, chopped (ignore fussy chefs, keep the skin on)
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- ½ cup Italian parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups white wine
- 4 cups fish stock
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons flour
- 16 mussels, scrubbed clean
- 18-24 Cherrystone clams (Amount depends on how many people you’ll have to fight off for them)
- A pinch of very expensive saffron threads, the kind you buy in tiny, fancy clear jars and wonder when the heck you’ll ever use
- 1 ½ pounds of white fish (snapper, bass, cod, heck, I guess, if you must, tilapia will do. If you have a friendly Chinese fishmonger, he’ll misunderstand your sign language for “just filet it but give me the heads and bones” and just chop the fish in four crude chunks, which works even better)
- 1 pound raw shrimp (I go for heads on and intact, it makes for a tastier broth, just know you’ll heavily fondle your food and must be okay with it)
- Melt butter in a soup pot. Add carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms and cook over low heat until soft, 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Add all the other ingredients. Your fish heads should be submerged, so, if you need to add more water, go for it.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Let cool and strain. By let cool, you should really let cool, refrigerate, heat again the next day, let cool again and strain. But if you are always in a hurry, like me, just let it cool and strain and move on.
- Makes 4 cups of stock
- Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add leeks and onion and cook until tender, about ten minutes. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, thyme, parsley, bay leaves wine, fish stock and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.
- In a little bowl, mush the butter with the flour. It’s fun. Make a sculpture if you are so inspired.
- Whisk said sculpture into soup. See how it gets thick. This never gets old.
- Add mussels and clams and fish.
- Add pinch of saffron. (I really could have written this in the last line but the stuff is so darn expensive I thought it worthy of its own instruction.)
- Simmer another 5 minutes.
- Throw fish in there. Simmer until just cooked- another five.
- See how fast?
- Ladle into soup plates. Serve with crusty bread and a nice green salad. You’ll have the best intentions, you will, but you won’t get around to the green salad, although you’ll see how readily you get to the bread. It’s great for dunking.