my very excellent fish soup

now don´t think me vain, but I am ever so proud of this soup. I love it. everyone who tries it loves it. and every time I make it I pat myself on the back , and think, well, now, you´re a grownup. this is grownup food.

going to the fishmongers used to scare me. i´d look at the array of glistening glassy eyed fish, and wonder, what was what, and what did people do with them?. you see, my family are not big fish eaters. as children we´d be given the occasional fishfinger, but everyone, from my grandparents down to the smallest cousin, seemed to have a profound contempt for seafood. and on good friday we´d ahve pasta, thank you very much.

however, some members of the family, especially my mother, would always make a point of asking for fish soup at restaurants. and when I had it I loved it , but always to me this was restaurant food, sophisticated and difficult. and that was that.

enter alain de botton. in one of his books he makes a wishlist of things, among them a chef, and the dishes he should be proficient in. I can´t remember it all, but it included roast chicken, zuchini fritters and fish soup.

and I thought, yes, that´s a good list. I can roast a chicken, and I don´t fry so am exempt from the fritters, but the fish soup nagged me.

so I started to hunt around for recipes.and found all sorts. they all involve a terrifying amount of fresh fish, and all sorts of preparations with mussels on one hand, shrimp heads on another, and a lot of complications involving mouli legumes. and I thought, screw that. there has to be an easier way.

finally, I found it. this is a very very simple and very quick soup. you only make a sofrito, add stock, simmer a few minutes with some rice or rice cakes to thicken it. blend it and then poach the (frozen) fish inside.

I like frozen fish. they´re convenient, they can be had on mondays, they´re really very good. nothing compares to a good smacking fresh fillet of fish, but frozen fish is not expensive and it´s not intimidating. a good place to start.

one thing. the soup stands or falls by the stock. this must be prime quality excellent fumet. and if this is where you say "aha, I knew it couldn´t be that easy", let me just point out that there are some execllent commercial fish stocks around. just don´t use cubes, nd don´t use cheap bottled stocks. go for broke, which is actually maybe a couple of euros more, and a world of difference.

and if you actually do make your own fumet you´ll be shocked at how quick and how delicious it is. and you´ll want to pat yourself on the back, because you will have tackled a preparation involving fish heads, and that´s VERY grownup.


serves 4

1 litre good fish stock
1 onion or leek or both
1or 2 cloves garlic
2 tomatoes (grated if fresh, tinned is excellent)
pinch saffron trheads
salt, pepper
olive oil for sauteeing
300 gr. peeled prawns
400 gr. white fish. both defrosted if frozen
rice cakes3, or 1 cup cooked rice.

heat oil, sautee onion, garlic, cover and sweat til soft. add saffron, stir for a minute. add tomatoes and leave to become as pulpy as you can. all patience at this point will be rewarded. if you´re very rushed, you can used tomato sauce, in which case, a couple of minutes is enough.

add stock, and leave to simmer ten minutes. add the rice cakes, and let them soak the stock.blend. if you want more body, add more rice cakes,let soak, and blend again.

up to this point, this can be made ahead. it is a good idea to do so, as soups improve with staying around a little. it also freezes perfectly,and is a good idea to have around.

reheat, or continue. put fish, cut into slices so they´re more or less same size as prawns. leave three minutes, check for doneness, and you´re done.

served with garlic bread or focaccia and a green salad, this is a whole meal, and very delicious, too.

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