Anatomy of a Simple Fish Soup

lobsterstockIt is a cool and rainy Sunday afternoon in Maine and my sister and I have had an empty stomach for months or in other words, too many lunch-free days in a row. We are in need of something steamy and soulful. With a guilt filled summer of cooking way too many lobsters for the myriad of lobster rolls we make, I confess that I threw out every one of those gorgeous, flavor filled shells. Yes, they are composting somewhere but the shells were underutilized by me. I am guilty of being too busy. I had no extra minutes for one more thing to do, though I wished somehow I could have made stock- just once. So, today is the day...

I have a stockpot filled with picked lobster bodies, empty claw and knuckle shells which I have covered with water, along with a cup or two of white wine, a chopped leek to give it a sweet kiss from the South of France, a tablespoon of dried tarragon, several (I used 4, maybe 5) whole cloves of peeled garlic, a touch of sea salt and a chopped large tomato. That’s it! Let it simmer - for an hour at least but no more than two. There is just so much flavor that can be extracted or pulled from the shells and two hours is more than ample.

Leave the pot on the stove, off the burner, to settle and meld all the flavors for an hour and then strain the shells and vegetables out and discard them. The broth, which makes it sound more comforting, has very practical roots - it was made by hardworking fishermen hoping to fill their stomach with sustenance and pry the cold from their bones. Then, somewhere along the way it turned into Bouillabaisse with all the fancy accoutrements and could only be served on ‘special’ days, that is, if the air receipt box filled with Rascasse fish arrived from France and the Chef was in the mood. Fish soup was never meant to be elusive, high-browed or persnickety. At least that is what I believe.

Warning: my fish soup has no ‘freshly’ flown-in ‘special’ fish. My only rule is to use fish and shellfish that looks good, a simple concept for a simple soup. And I am not adding saffron, either. No gasping, please.

seafoodstewAt this point my broth has been strained. I have 8 or 10 cups of broth to which I bring back to a gently simmer. Add ½ cup of thin slices of onion and a ½ cup of fresh sliced leeks, 1teaspoon dried tarragon and 2 tiny red potatoes per person. Let the broth simmer until the potatoes are tender and the onions and leeks are cooked which should take exactly the same amount of time. Now let’s put the fish in fish soup.

Today I’m making lunch in the kitchen of our store so I have whatever I want at my fingertips. I’ve used a lobster that arrived with one claw, (1 per cent of the catch, not every lobster caught is perfect). With a big French knife I’ve chopped the lobster into large pieces- the tail into 3 pieces and the claw into 2 pieces. Oh, by the way, that’s a live lobster! Let the lobster pieces cook in the simmering broth until the shells get a mottled red color but not quite red yet. That will take about 8 or 9 minutes at a simmer with the lid on.

Next, I added swordfish chunks, 3 chunks per person, 2 or 3 whole scallops for each guest, and the salmon all cut to equal the size of the scallops so everything cooks or rather poaches in the same amount of time. When the fish is starting to look opaque, add the jumbo, cooked shrimp to heat up for few minutes. Arrange the fish and shellfish in a tureen using a slotted spoon and gently ladle the broth over the beautiful arrangement of fish.

Sprinkle with fresh chives or parsley and serve with a baguette and a crisp, cold glass of something white and French. Serves 4 for lunch with a salad.

Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
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