“…Pearlescent black mussels, earthy gray-brown clams, and delicate pink shrimp all look beautiful floating in a fragrant broth redolent of the sea.” Cucina Rustica
Who would not want to make this soup?
“Cooking for friends” is one of the best ingredients for any recipe. It’s right up there with love and joy, and a good way to insure plenty of the latter ingredients. While we were in Paris, Rick’s dear friends Marie and Jean-Charles came to visit, and Rick embarked upon a cooking odyssey. It was an all-day event that involved more than one trip to the market, improvisation, several bottles of wine, and much love and joy–especially on the part of who got to eat Rick’s fish soup.
Luckily for Rick, the outdoor market fell on the day of his extravaganza. The Bastille Market is renowned even among the Paris markets, and stretches from the neighborhood of our apartment all the way to the Bastille, half a mile away. The fishmongers’ stalls are extraordinary, with fish so fresh they seem to have just jumped off the boat. Six-foot eels wind their way around the piles of seafood, and giant fish with giant eyeballs stare at you from their beds of ice. Rick went early and chose cod, snapper, scallops, and shrimp. He filled his shopping bag with onions, potatoes, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and a bundle of fresh thyme and set off for the kitchen.
Rick’s cooking brought to mind the musings of Michael Pollan in his book about making food, titled Cooked. He wrote, “Time is the missing ingredient in our recipes–and in our lives.” Rick didn’t need to spend all day cooking to make this stew, but he did. There is something very wonderful about spending a day in the kitchen cooking for friends and infusing ingredients with love and joy. Another thought from Pollan: “Great cooking is all about the three “P’s”: patience, presence, and practice.” Rick used all three.
Rick’s Fish Soup
Rick’s fish soup was very much in the spirit of using the catch of the day. He chose ingredients that called to him at the market, took them home, and turned them into a wonderful stew. Fish stew lends itself to a gathering of friends because it is best made in a wide, generous pot that allows the precious seafood to poach gently in the broth at the very end of cooking. Rick made enough for six, well-satisfied people.
Ingredients: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 finely chopped yellow onion, 1 tsp anchovy paste or 3 or 4 anchovy fillets, 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (added in stages), 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 diced green bell pepper, 1 1/2 cups diced smooth-skinned potato, 1 1/2 to 2 cups dry white wine (Rick used Muscadet), 2 diced medium tomatoes (or 1cup canned plum tomatoes with juice), 1 lb. cod fillet (Rick chooses the thicker “Captain’s cut”), 1 lb. snapper fillet, 1/2 lb. scallops, 1/2 lb.peeled shrimp, 1 cup heavy cream, 4 Tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, pimente d’espelette or red chile flakes (or, if you are lucky enough to have some, smoky Hungarian paprika)
Warm the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Stir in the onion and sauté 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the anchovy paste or chopped anchovy fillets (here’s where Rick had to use a handful chopped oil-cured black olives to get the briny flavor he wanted because in the Paris markets, anchovy paste n’existe pas) and stir until they meld with the onions. Stir in 1 tsp thyme leaves and the garlic; continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes. Add the peppers and potato; stir a few minutes longer and add the wine. Let the wine simmer for a few minutes and add the tomatoes and their juice. Add water or broth if more liquid is needed to barely cover the vegetables. Cook at a low, steady simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and the rest of the thyme. Cover and reduce the heat to very low. You can turn off the heat and go out to the market for more wine at this point, if you like.
Bring the soup back to a simmer and add the scallops and shrimp (being denser, they take slightly longer to cook, so are added first). Cover and cook 3 minutes. Cut the fish into 1-inch cubes or slices and season lightly with sea salt. Carefully add the fish pieces without stirring. Cover and cook about 3 minutes more. Stir in the cream and a pinch or two pimente d’espelette or smoky Spanish or Hungarian paprika.ungarian paprikapppap Sprinkle the soup with parsley and serve with a loaf or two of crusty bread and a few bottles of cherished wine.
More Fish Soup
Rick’s masterpiece inspired me to make a fish stew to share with friends when we returned home. The origin of fish soups from Italian brodetto to French bouillabaisse lies in the answer to the question, “What do I do with all the little fish left in the net after I’ve sold all the big fish?” Traditional recipes call for fish stock made with fish heads and bones, as well as a dozen or more varieties of fish and shellfish for the stew, all contributing to the many-layered flavor of the finished soup. Unshelled shrimp, mussels, and clams and very small whole fish make the most flavorful broth.
Alas, most of us don’t live in fishing villages and have a much more limited choice of fish. But, after sampling Rick’s wonderful soup, I knew I didn’t need an ocean of fish to make a tasty stew. I went fishing at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods; then I went fishing for recipes to match my catch. I turned to a recipe from John Ash, originally printed in Fine Cooking magazine, for turning chicken stock into a flavorful broth using shrimp shells. The stock is used to make broth for his version of Cioppino, a San Francisco-style fish soup.
Faux Fish Stock
Ingredients: 1 lb. large shrimp, 6 cups homemade or low salt canned chicken broth
Peel the shrimp, reserving the shells. Refrigerate the shelled shrimp to add to the soup later. Simmer the shells in chicken broth for 5 to 10 minutes, covered. Strain and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
I was able to test this recipe using trout heads from the giant trout lurking in our pond, known as “Troutzilla”. I simmered trout heads with chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic in homemade chicken broth for about 15 minutes. Then I threw in a handful of dried bonito flakes for extra umami and let the broth steep another 5 minutes before straining.
Celebration Fish Stew
I adapted two recipes for my celebration fish stew dinner party. I knew the fish would need the help of Ash’s brightly flavored Cioppino broth and I also liked the looks of a Tunisian fish soup in Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Jerusalem, which would let me use my beautiful fennel bulbs and preserved lemon. Ginny and Danny brought fresh Carolina shrimp to provide “redolence of the sea.”
Cioppino Broth: 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 cups coarsely chopped yellow onion, 2/3 cup coarsely chopped celery or fennel, 1 cup coarsely chopped carrot, 3 Tbs chopped garlic, 3 cups canned tomatoes with juices, 2 1/2 cups dry red or white wine (Ash uses Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese…I used Pinot Grigio), 6 cups faux fish stock, 3 large bay leaves, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In the olive oil in an 8-quart or larger pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery or fennel, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, wine, shellfish stock, bay leaves, thyme, fennel seeds, chile flakes, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and maintain a low simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Strain the broth, pressing the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids and return the broth to the pot. Boil until reduced to 8 cups. Taste and adjust the seasonings. This broth may be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen.
The Stew: 2 Tbs olive oil, 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves. 1 large waxy potato (6 to 8 oz), 2 medium fennel bulbs (about 12 oz), 1/2 preserved lemon, 1 Tbs sweet paprika, 2 cups diced tomatoes, 1 lb scrubbed clams*, 1 lb scrubbed mussels*, 2 1/2 lbs fillets of firm-fleshed white fish–halibut, flounder, sea bass, monkfish, etc, 1 lb peeled shrimp, 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
*Use whatever fresh seafood is available.
Note: Adding more vegetables is optional. You can and go straight to cooking the seafood in the prepared broth, if you like. Cut the potato into 2/3-inch cubes. Trim the fennel bulbs and cut into very thin wedges. Warm the olive oil in a wide sauté pan or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the potato, fennel, and chopped preserved lemon and cook 4 or 5 minutes. Add the strained broth, bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over low heat 12 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are barely tender. Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer 4 to 5 minutes more.
Now cook the seafood. Add the scrubbed clams to the simmering broth and cook until they open, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mussels and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. When all the shellfish have opened, add the fish and shrimp, trying not to break the pieces. Cover, and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until barely cooked through. The fish will continue to cook in the hot broth until served. Garnish with chopped parsley and tarragon. Serve with couscous or crusty bread o sop up the broth.