I just got back from London where it seemed they were digging up every road that I tried to drive down. It took me 54 minutes to drive 2.5 kilometers through the West End! So you can imagine my thoughts (**!!!##??) when I returned to my town in Provence and found they were digging up the road outside my house too. Well not exactly outside my house, but the road that leads to my house and outside our local theatre where they’re widening the path and laying down cobble stones.
It is a pains-taking job as every stone is chipped to size and tapped into place by hand.
So remember the next time you’re on holiday and walking down a cobble stone street that each stone has been placed there by hand!
Speaking of painstaking….. despite saying in my last blog that you can buy a perfectly good jar of fish soup in the local food store, I couldn’t resist the little fish for sale at the fishmonger’s in my local market last week.
When I asked the fishmonger how I should make the soup he gave me a list of ingredients and told me to cook everything up together and then strain it all and violà, soupe de Poisson. ‘What could be easier?’ I thought as I walked home with my bag of ingredients.
I later did a little research. This soup was traditionally cooked by the fishermen along the Mediterranean coast making use of the small rock fish that were too small to sell in the market. It was originally a poor man’s lunch, just as oysters once were, making use of the fish that would otherwise have been thrown away. Nowadays you can find it in any fancy restaurant all over France and anywhere in the World even. You can make it yourself using any white fish, whole or not, but what gives the soup its authentic Provençal flavour is the mix of fennel, garlic, tomatoes, saffron and orange zest.
Heeding the words of my fish monger, this was what I did.
First of all I chopped together an onion, celery, leek, fennel and garlic. I then heated up two tablespoons of olive oil in a large casserole and added the chopped vegetables, leaving them to cook gently for 20 minutes. I then added chopped tomatoes, thyme and bayleaves, orange zest and saffron and let that cook for a few minutes. I then added the whole fish. Some recipes suggest you gut the fish and remove the gills as they can can make the soup bitter, but the traditional way is to throw in the whole fish as the fishermen would have done in days gone by beside the sea shore. Along with the fish I added the Ricard, some orange juice and about 1.8 litres of water. I then brought it all to the boil and let it simmer for a further 30 minutes.
Then came the tricky bit, straining the broth. I used a moulin à legumes, which is a simple hand press, but you can also use a sieve, (some recipes tell you to liquidize everything and then strain it, maybe this makes it easier). This may not sound very difficult, but grinding through all the fish and vegetables is quite painstaking (or maybe its just one of those jobs I don’t like to do) I ended up putting it through 3 times, to ensure that I had squeezed out every last bit of liquid.
To serve, I heated up the soup in a clean pot (some recipes say to add a handful of pasta, but I’ve never seen it myself) and served it hot with some dry rounds of toast, spread with a blob of rouille (literal translation is rust, due to its reddish-orange colour) and a sprinkling of gruyère or parmesan. Et violà soupe de poissons. No one will believe you made it yourself!
Soupe de Poisson
- 1.2 kg Small rock fish
- 1 onion
- 1 leek (white part only)
- 1/2 bulb fennel
- 2 celery stalks
- 3 Cloves of garlic
- 500g fresh tomatoes chpped or 400g tin of tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- a sprig of dried thyme
- some parsley stalks
- Juice of 1/2 orange and 2 peelings of orange zest
- a good pinch of saffron
- a glug of Ricard or a glass of white wine
- 2 tbl olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Chop the onion, celery, leak and fennel and smash the garlic with the blade of your knife, heat the olive oil in a large casserole pan and add the chopped vegetables and garlic and cook gently for about 20 minutes. Do not brown or burn the vegetables.
When they are all nicely cooked and translucent, add the bayleaves, the thyme, the parsley stalks, the saffron threads, the tomatoes, the orange juice zest. Then add the fish washed (and gutted if you prefer) and cook for about five to ten minutes. Next add the wine or the Ricard, the orange juice and 2 litres of boiling water. Bring this to the boil and then
simmer slowly for 30 minutes without a lid. When everything is nicely cooked together, take it off the flame and leave to cool for a bit, taking out the thyme and the bay leaves.
Next put the broth through a sieve or vegetable press, making sure you get as much of the fish and vegetable essence into the soup, leaving the dry pulp behind.
Heat the strained soup up in a clean pan and serve with rounds of toast spread with rouille and sprinkled with grated gruyère
For the Rouille
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 chilli peppers
- 20 g stale bread, crusts removed
- 3 tbl fish stock or water
- 4 tbl olive oil
- 1 egg yoke
- Coarse sea salt
Soak the bread in the fish stock.
De-seed the the chilli peppers (you can subsitute a teaspoon of dried chilli power) and pound with the salt and the garlic in a pestle and mortar.
Squeeze the moisture out of the bread and add to the garlic and peppers along with the egg yoke.
Mix these all together to form a paste and gradually add the olive oil, a little at a time as you would for mayonnaise.
You can also do this in an electric mixer.
For a variation on this you can watch the late Keith Floyd (who had a house not far from us) cooking La Bourride, a Mediterranean fish stew, for a couple of Rugby players in Cassis.