THE THINGS YOU DO FOR RESEARCH… A CHEF TOLD ME ABOUT ONE OF HIS FAVOURITE BARS IN A FISHING TOWN WHERE THE CHEF MAKES AN ASTOUNDING FISH SOUP. IT WAS IN AN AREA WHERE BASQUE SEPARATIST FLAGS FLY AND THE BARS FILL WITH SMOKE AND MEN. MY BUSINESS PARTNER AND I FOUND THE PLACE AND ORDERED A BOWL OF SOUP BETWEEN US. MAY I JUST SAY THAT REAL’ BASQUE MEN DON’T SHARE SOUP. MAY I ALSO ADD THAT DISPARAGEMENT HAS A TONE THAT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD NO MATTER WHAT THE LANGUAGE. STILL, IT WAS WORTH IT. THIS IS A RICH SOUP WITH A DEEP OCHRE HUE AND SMOOTH TEXTURE, WITH A FEW CLAMS ADDED AT THE LAST MINUTE. THIS COULD BE A SILVER-SERVICE DINNER PARTY STARTER OR JUST THE TICKET POURED INTO A TIN MUG FROM A THERMOS BY THE PIER ON A COLD DAY.
Place the fish heads and bones in a large roasting tin and the prawn heads and shells in another. Season and drizzle
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat, then add the onion and sauté for 5–6 minutes, or until golden. Reduce the heat to medium-high, season to taste, then add the carrot, leek, sliced garlic cloves and the chopped parsley. Season again and cook for 15 minutes, or until the onion and leek are tender.
Increase the heat to high, stir in the wine and brandy and cook for 2–3 minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Reduce the heat to medium again, simmer for 5 minutes, then add the puréed tinned tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes have cooked down to a pulp.
Add the fish fillets and prawns to the tomato mixture and simmer for 30 minutes. Add
Put the clams and 2 tablespoons water in a small heavy-based pan. Cover and cook over high heat, shaking the pan, for 3–4 minutes, or just until the shells open. Drain the clams and remove the meat from the shells.
Pour the soup into warmed bowls, scatter with the clams and drizzle with a little olive oil. Serve immediately.
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