Saturday, April 24, 2010

fish soup, or more politely, a bouillabaisse

I have made this fish soup so many times in differing ways that it sometimes starts life as a soup, then becomes a stew, or starts with the intention of being a stew and is then served as as soup.  I have seen the base stock served alone as a starter and the fish following or together, as you see it here. 
I will not pretend that this is true to the traditional French bouillabaisse recipe which I have eaten many times in France, but it is my version and I can vouch that it tastes great.  It is versatile and brings colour to any dinner table.
It is traditionally a fisherman's tea made with whatever fish is leftover from the catch at the end of the day.  So it can include anything from cod and conger eel, to ling and lobster.  The latter being the more luxurious and expensive - clearly it was not a good days trade! 
It is worth experimenting with the texture of varying fish, such as combining a firm fish like turbot and monkfish with a softer fish such as haddock or rouget (gurnard) .

This soup served two as a main evening meal, served only with crusty bread rubbed with garlic.

For two, you will need:

2 pieces of monkfish, 2 of cod or hake (as much as you will eat)
1 large handful of clams, scrubbed and broken ones discarded
1L home-made or best quality bought fish stock
6 cloves of garlic
3 onions
6 baby leeks, whites and greens separated
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tbsl of olive oil
1 bouquet garni, bay, basil, thyme, oregano
1 bulb of fennel, stalks removed, finely sliced 
8 saffron strands, crushed to dust with the back of a spoon
potatoes (optional)
salt and Cayenne pepper  
parsely, finely chopped (for garnish)
Crusty bread (for mopping up)

Marinade the fish pieces:
First take the fish fillets and marinade them with 2 finely diced onions, the crushed saffron strands and 3 garlic cloves for at least one hour in the fridge.

For the fish base:
If you like you can make the base or bouillabaisse from your own fish carcasses, heads tails, the lot, chopped and boiled.  For the fish stock base you will need almost a kilo of fish waste placed in a large lidded pot with 1L of water, a large handful of the dark green leaves of the leek, saving the white parts for the finished soup.  Add 1 bay leaf, 1 chopped onion, 3 garlic cloves.
Boil for approximaltely 35 minutes covered.  Sieve, taste, season as necessary and set the liquid aside.
Alternatively boil 1L of fish stock with the onion, garlic and greens and taste for seasoning (it may not need salt).  I found a really good fish stock recently which I have now come to rely on a lot!  It comes in 500ml glass jars so for this soup I used 2.

For the main body of the soup:
Finely slice the whites and a little green of the leeks - I used baby leeks for their soft skin, fennel, the cherry tomatoes, and two cloves of garlic, finely sliced.  Sautee them in some oil for five minutes until the leeks are bright green.  Add the marinated fish pieces and cook slowly for another five minutes.  The cooking of the fish depends on the different varieties and size of the pieces - obviously those taking longest should go in first and thus have a longer cooking time.  Slowly ladle in the hot fish stock onto the fish and vegetables and simmer slowly until the fish is cooked through - this should only take 5 minutes.
In a separate saucepan, bring a ladleful of the stock to the boil and add the clams.  Cook for two minutes with a lid on until all the clams have opened. 
Carefully with a slotted spoon, place the fish into a serving bowl and ladle over the soup and the clams.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve with sliced of bread for mopping up the juices.

finely slice leeks, fennel and garlic

saute the leeks, garlic and tomatoes in oil

taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if necessary


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