North Sea Fish Soup

All my favourite aspects of cookery find their way into this dish. There is no waste: fish skin, bones, and prawn shells all impart something to the flavour of the dish. There is slow cooking and careful extraction of tastes from the less appealing parts coupled with the immediacy and freshness of fish just cooked at the last moment.

The ingredients in the recipe are a guideline only, and it is the technique which produces the dish. The soup is quick to make and the preparation work isn’t hard.

It is a more interesting dish if you use small amounts of four or five different fish. But if you are embarrassed to make your fishmonger work for his living by weighing out several things in small amounts, it will work with only two types, so long as they are of different textures like scallops and halibut.

Bear in mind, too, that some fish cook more quickly than others. You will need to cut sea bass into smaller pieces than scallops for instance, or else put it into the stock a few moments earlier so that both will be cooked at the same time.

Use a large spoon for tasting. Soup isn’t sauce, and the seasoning and cream content are different. What tastes fine in a teaspoon isn’t necessarily good by the bowlful.

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Ingredients

  • 3 oz (75 g) sea bass fillet
  • 3 oz (75 g) hake fillet
  • 3 oz (75 g) haddock fillet 4 scallops 3 oz (75 g) whole prawns
  • 1 small bunch parsley
  • 2 oz(50 g) unsalted butter
  • fl oz (65 ml) dry white wine
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 slice good white bread
  • 2 shallots
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Complete

  • 2egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons double cream

Method

The Stock

  1. Wash the bones and trimmings from the fish, along with the red scallop corals, prawn shells and bodies, under cold running water. Wash the stalks from the parsley too.
  2. In a medium saucepan turn these over with a knob of the butter until they start to smell cooked. Add the wine and pints (900 ml) of cold water. Bring this to the boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. The water should just cover the bones and fish scraps: if it doesn’t you are using the wrong size of pan.
  3. Strain this stock into a clean saucepan. You should have over a pint (600 ml) of well-flavoured liquid.

The soup

  • Skin the tomatoes by dropping them for a few seconds in boiling water and then peeling them. Cut them in half and then scoop out and discard the seeds from the middle. Dice the tomato flesh.
  • Wash the parsley leaves in plenty of cold water, then drain well and chop. Parsley often contains quite a bit of grit and sand which will drop to the bottom of the sink if the parsley is actually suspended in water.
  • Cut the bread into ¼ in (6 mm) cubes. Fry them until a golden brown colour in the foaming butter. Strain off the butter and pat the croutons dry with kitchen paper.
  • Peel and chop the shallots. Add these to the stock and bring this back to the boil.
  • Cut each piece of fish, and each scallop, into four pieces, and turn them briefly in lemon juice. Season them with salt and pepper and then add them to the stock, remembering to add them in order of which fish takes longest to cook – sea bass first, then hake, then haddock, and lastly the scallops. The whole process shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes, and the scallops no more than about 30 seconds. Remember that they will continue to ‘cook’ from now until eaten.

To Complete

  • As soon as the soup approaches boiling point remove the pan from the heat. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Add a little of the soup to this mixture, whisking as you do so. Pour the egg-cream liaison back into the soup and stir it carefully so as not to break up the pieces of fish. Now taste a spoonful of the soup. It will certainly need salt and quite possibly a few more drops of lemon juice.

    This soup should taste like its ingredients and not be dominated by any strong herb or vegetable. It’s important, though, to get the seasoning right. If you forget salt the soup will taste bland. It’s worth spending time tasting in the final stages.

    Remember, too, that once you have added the egg-cream liaison you should not re-boil the soup or it will curdle. The sooner you eat this soup once you have made it the better it will taste.

  • Put the croûtons, parsley, prawns and tomato in a warm terrine. Pour on the soup and serve it straightaway.
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