Monthly Archives: February 2015

riviera fish soup {ffwd}

Riviera Fish Soup

It was another cold, though less snowy, week here in the Great White North. I’ve noticed the days getting longer with the sun coming up earlier and setting later every day. I finally believe that spring might be coming, though I suspect we won’t see the earth under its multi-foot layer of snow until after spring’s arrival.

The idea of a pot of fish soup was a welcome antidote to the chill in the air. I could get excited about an imaginary dinner on the French Riviera. I made a grocery list and went to pick up what I needed. I was envisioning a fragrant tomato broth with other Provençal flavors like fennel, orange peel, and saffron. I was also anticipating spoonfuls of fish chunks surrounded by this lovely broth, but wait… The path to dinner was much different than I expected.

It started at the fish counter. Wegman’s has come to town (the next town, actually). I’m trying hard to like it and haven’t given up yet, but each visit I leave feeling like it fell short. Their produce is a nightmare, and their precut fish has been a disappointment because it always looks hacked into the pieces for sale.

One thing I’ll give Wegman’s props for is the display of fresh whole fish on ice at the fish counter which I don’t see everywhere. I was in search of a whole red snapper, so chose to shop there again. They didn’t have red snapper, so I opted for two ocean perch. The fish guy scaled them for me, and offered to fillet or whatever else I wanted to the fish, but I thought I was cooking them whole so declined.

Ocean Perch -- Aren't they ugly?

Ocean Perch — Aren’t they ugly?

At home, I finally read the recipe through. I realized that after I cut off the heads, the fish needed to be cut into chunks. I guess I could have had the fish guy bone the fish for me. Oh well. I googled what to do and did it myself. It didn’t seem like I was supposed to add the bones to this soup, so I froze them for fish stock another time.

FishChunks

The remaining steps to make the soup were mostly easy and “the usual”. Vegetables are sautéed. The fish gets added. Liquid is supplied from chopped canned tomatoes and its juices plus water. Herbs, orange rind, saffron and Pernod (pastis, an anise liqueur) provide the seasonings as the soup simmers. The final surprise was the food mill. I was honestly confused by the concept of all of these ingredients being processed into a fishy puree. I did it, particularly because miscellaneous bones made their way into the pot, so this step made it easy to get rid of them, but it wasn’t what I expected.

Soup Simmering

I also had some issues making the rouille for topping toasts to accompany the fish soup. I make homemade mayonnaise a few times a year, starting with one whole egg, in my food processor. Because Dorie’s recipe uses just one yolk, I was worried that the volume would be too small for the food processor, so I used the blender. From experience, I knew it would splatter out the top, so I covered it with plastic wrap and poked a small hole in for drizzling the oil. I would swear I’d done this before, successfully, but this time, it didn’t work. My mayonnaise didn’t emulsify. I tried to fix it by slowly incorporating the failed mayo into a new egg yolk, but that didn’t work either. In the end, I dumped it and made a new batch using my old standby recipe which worked like a champ on the first try. As a nod to Dorie’s recipe, I used Dijon mustard instead of the dry mustard I usually use. (I’ve already made a few batches of croquants lately, so if anyone has suggestions for what to do with my egg whites, I’m looking for something new.)

In the end, I liked the flavors of the soup. Because of my original idea of what the soup would be like, the smooth texture threw me. I was OK with the broth having substance instead of being a clear broth, but I prefer fish chunks on my spoon instead of hiding in the soup. Upon rereading the recipe, I see that Dorie thinks the fine shreds of fish in each spoonful is more satisfying, for my taste, I disagree. If I make this again (which I might) I would cook everything except the fish chunks, puree that, and then cook the fish in the pureed soup.

Toast Topper

Without a doubt, my favorite part was the toast with rouille on top. I could easily just eat the garnish without the soup. Fortunately, there’s still plenty left!

To see how the other Doristas fared in this last installment of “French Fridays” Fish Month, check out their links here. We don’t post the recipes for this group, but you can find it in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table.

Cooking Garbage

Lobster Scraps

I love cooking garbage. That isn’t what it sounds like, but it’s my favorite way to put it. What I really mean is that I love making the most of my ingredients. It means I’m a saver of bones and peels and miscellaneous scraps that others might discard. Chicken bones, lamb bones, squash seeds and pulp… My freezer is full of them.

All of this detritus has a second life as soup, most often as a stock to use as the base for a pot of soup. (Or does that pot of soup count as its third life?) When we eat lobster, as we did for Valentine’s Day, if I’m feeling enthusiastic, I save the shells and innards to transform into a pot of lobster bisque.

The tail, claw, and knuckle meat has already been eaten, but the walking legs and the body can be picked for little chunks of meat to garnish the bowl. The only other preparation I do is to remove and discard the spongy gills inside the lobster body. Then, all the shells, any coral or roe (from the females), and the tomalley (that green gunk) are ready to do its magic.

You sauté some vegetables and herbs in butter, add the shells, tomatoes, wine, and water, and simmer. Once the shells are removed from the pot, the remainder is passed through a food mill for a smooth puree. Cream and sherry turn the soup into a lovely bisque.

I can’t think of a better way to extract every last bit of flavor from a lobster. After enjoying the prized meat, this soup makes the lobster last a little bit longer.

DSC06536

The lobster base keeps in the freezer. Just wait to add the cream and sherry until you are reheating to serve.

Lobster Bisque
Makes about 2 quarts

2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried)
Shells from 2-4 cooked lobsters (or more)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
6 cups water (could use strained lobster cooking liquid if available)
1 cup heavy cream
¼ to ½ cup dry sherry (start with the smaller amount and increase if you want more sherry flavor)
Salt and pepper to taste

Sort through the shells, picking out any extra meat (especially from the bodies and legs, especially if you only ate the claws and tail). Include the tomalley and, if female, the coral). Discard the gills attached to the body. Reserve any meat picked to finish the soup.

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, carrot, bay leaf, and thyme, and cook until onions are soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the lobster bodies and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and tomatoes and turn heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to low, cover, and cook for 10 more minutes. Add the water, turn the heat back to high, and bring back to a boil. Reduce to low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and lobster shells and discard. Puree what remains in the pot through the food mill using the disk with smallest holes.

(You could cool and then freeze it at this point.)

When ready to serve, bring to a boil, then add the cream, sherry, and any lobster meat and heat through.