To make fish soup for four, you will need:
- 1kg fresh or frozen marine fish fillets
- 1 head of a large marine fish
- 250g prawns
- 150g mussel meat
- 4 baby squid
- 500ml white wine
- 500g whole tomatoes
- 1 leek
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 large onion
- 8-12 cloves of garlic
- 2 sprigs each of fresh rosemary, fennel and thyme
- 8 sprigs fresh parsley
- 70ml extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper on demand
The fundamentals of this delectable seafood soup, or bouillabaisse, include marine fish, fresh herbs, drinkable wine and top-quality vegetables. If you live far from a good fishmonger, frozen fish and other packed seafoods will meet your primary needs. If the head of a large fish is unavailable, substitute with 2kg fresh fish bones, skin and small fish heads.
Clean the prawns by removing them from their shells and cutting out the colon (‘the vein’). Cut each baby squid neatly in half lengthwise. Turn the bodies inside out and rinse them under a running tap. Dispose of the hard bits, but retain everything else. Cut the fish fillets into bite-sized pieces. Thaw the frozen mussel meat. Chop up the large fish head with a cleaver. Keep all the protein covered in the fridge until required later in the proceedings.
Next, the vegetables. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Cut the celery stalks into 5mm sections. Wash the leek well, taking care to remove all gritty traces of Mother Earth, and slice thinly. Combine all these in a bowl. Pour half the extra virgin olive (or canola, if you prefer) into a large heavy-based saucepan and add half the prepared vegetables.
Bring the temperature up to medium. Sweat the vegetables for as long as it takes for the onions to become soft and translucent, taking care to avoid burning or adhesions to the bottom of the pot. Add the chopped up fish head (or fish carcasses, skin and smaller fish heads), white wine and sufficient water to just cover the solids in the pot. Season lightly with salt and pepper and let this boil without a lid for 25 minutes. Keep a custodial eye on the process.
When done, strain the contents, saving every precious drop of the stock. Chuck out the solids, using a couple of tightly sealed plastic bags to prevent flies and profoundly unattractive odours. Lightly fry the prawns and baby squid. Remove the prawns after 90 seconds and let the squid fry until tender. Cover and reserve. Select another large saucepan and sweat the remaining half of the prepared vegetables. Add the tomatoes (blanched and peeled), the fresh herbs and the stock.
Bring this to a rolling boil and add the mussels and the fish fillet sections. Let these boil for six minutes, then add the cooked prawns and squid for another two minutes.
Serve this with a Chenin Blanc wine plus freshly baked rolls. A mouthwatering experience, believe me.