I like the type of fish soup with a somewhat thick and hearty stock, the base for various interesting and floating things like shellfish and pieces of fleshy fish. The Mediterranean in a bowl… yum. My soup includes a base stock made with fish and shellfish, a sofrito made with onion and tomato that’s pureed with the stock, a picada that’s added almost at the end of the boiling and little pieces of fish, shellfish like mussels or even rice added as garnish to the stock.
Sopa de pescado or fish and shellfish soup (yields around 8 servings)
Make a fish stock by boiling the following ingredients in 2 liters of water for half an hour:
- One large salmon bone and one large monkfish bone (any combination of fish bones is good, but the monkfish is especially flavourful)
- 1 medium onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 leek
- 1 bay leaf
Discard the solids after the boiling.
- 10 shrimps
- 4 small crawfish
I do this in a different pot only because you have to fish the shrimps and crawfish later and shell them, it’s easier if you have them in a smaller recipient. Bring the pot to a boil and turn the heat off immediately. Leave it to cool and shell them.
Then pour a glass of white wine in another pot to steam:
- 10 small mussels
- 10 small clams
You can pour yourself a glass of white wine too… that will make for a merrier cooking process. This time I used some leftover cava I had in the fridge instead of the wine. Keep the liquid in the pot and leave aside. Shell the mussels and clams and leave aside.
Once all the ingredients are cooked, drain all the three liquids and pour them in one single pot, that is, the fish bones and vegetables stock, the shrimps and crawfish stock and the mussels stock. Then start the sofrito by dicing and frying in olive oil the following ingredients:
- 1 medium onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp ñora flesh
- 1 cup crushed tomato
Start by frying the diced onion and garlic. When the onion is wilted, add the ñora. Ñoras are typical Spanish sweet round red peppers. They impart a wonderful flavour and are widely used in paellas, for example. They’re usually sold dry and they have to be soaked in water for some time before opening them and scraping the pepper’s flesh. Anyway, you can skip it if you don’t have it. Then add the tomato and fry everything while stirring, around 8-10 minutes, just enough for the water in the tomato to evaporate. It’s the tomato and ñora which give the soup its healthy reddish color.
For thickening the base stock I like to add a hake or whiting fillet at the end of the sofrito, to be pureed later with the vegetables. You can also add some potato if you like your stock even thicker. Then puree the sofrito, you can add some fish stock to make it easier. The puree is added to the stock and everything is heated together for around 5 minutes, for the flavours to meld. Then you can add any kind of garnish you prefer, you can even boil a handful of rice in the stock for a heartier soup. In my case I added the shrimps, crawfish, mussels, clams and also some diced cuttlefish and squid, previously stir-fried with some oil. Try the soup for salt and add if needed.
This time I wanted to try and add some picada. The picada is a thick paste made by pounding garlic, almonds, hazelnuts or any other nut, parsley, saffron and toasted bread together in a mortar, then a spoonful of olive oil is added. It’s typically added to all kind of dishes if you want more thickness and flavour. Here’s a excerpt from Colman Andrews’ Catalan Cuisine:
No other European cuisine has anything quite like the picada – which, as noted, is a thickening and flavoring agent made up of such ingredients as garlic, fried bread, olive oil (or some other liquid), and various nuts, herbs, and/or spices, all pounded together with a mortar and pestle. (…) The picada closest relatives are probably Italy’s pesto (which likewise involves garlic, nuts and herbs crushed in a mortar) and gremolada ( the Milanese herb-and-garlic mixture traditionally added to osso bucco) – but pesto clearly is a sauce, and both substances, unlike the picada, have limited and highly specialized uses, and a more or less regularized composition.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 15 almonds, toasted and skinned
- 15 hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
- 1 slice toasted bread (I prefer it fried with oil)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 stems saffron
- Olive oil
The paste must be thoroughly pounded, until no pieces of nut can be discerned. Hard job for me, I’m quite a weakling. Then add the paste to the soup, boil for a further 2 minutes then turn off the heat. Try for salt again and adjust if necessary. I loved the effect of the picada, you could make out a faint raw garlic flavour, and the nuts give the soup more thickness… delicious.