Soupe de Poisson


While browsing the fish aisle at my favorite Japanese market the other day, I spotted a package of fish bones. Always one to be attracted to the stranger items in the refrigerated section, I added it to my basket.

There really aren’t that many things you can do with a package of fish bones. The most obvious is a French-style fish soup. And since my father was coming for lunch a couple days later to celebrate his 87th birthday and French fish soup is one of his favorite things, that’s what I decided to do!

Whether you call it bouillabaisse or soup de poisson or bourride is a matter of little importance (you can bet the fisherman’s wife in Languedoc isn’t concerning herself with terminology when her husband brings home the basket of loup de mer). They’re all variations on a theme. What you want is to zero in on a certain convergence of flavors — fish and fennel, saffron and tomato, bay leaf and thyme, garlic and wine. The flavors of summer in southern France.

Of the summer I spent in Europe when I was 11, one of the most tactile memories is the briny pelagic flavors of the southern coast of France — the salinity and tang of a pan bagna at Le Grande Motte; a tide pool bowl of fruits de mer in a hillside restaurant above Nice; and a big bowl of garlicky fish soup in the gritty port of Marseilles.

You want the bones of white fish, no tuna — and you want to avoid oily fish like salmon, mackerel or yellowtail — and the meat, as well. You may feel inspired to include shrimp, lobster or crab, or perhaps clams. This is a flexible soup. The most important part is the mojo — put yourself in a fisherman state of mind, pour a big glass of wine (thank you, Jacques Pépin), and fill the soup pot with some love.

Soupe de poisson

As we sat eating soupe de poisson with my father, my wife (who has various texture issues) said, “Could you ever puree this soup?” Yes, you could. And having leftovers and curious, I did. The result was equally good as the chunky version. Your preference.

*   *   *

Soupe de poisson
serves 4-6

1 lb. white fish bones
1 lb. white fish (halibut, bass, snapper, etc.), cut into large chunks
1 large white onion
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 large tomato, cut in half
1 head fennel
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup olive oil
4-6 thick slices baguette or ciabatta (or other rustic bread)

Place fish bones, onion, bay leaf, thyme, tomato and half of the fennel bulb in a pot with 2 quarts water. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, skimming foam from the top. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt — I would add somewhere between a teaspoon and tablespoon — and remove from heat. Let cool.

When stock has cooled, strain through a fine sieve into another pot. Discard bones, onion, etc. Shave the remaining half fennel bulb on a mandoline (or slice thinly with a sharp knife). You may need to soak your slices in cold water if they are sandy.

Add shaved fennel to stock and heat over medium-high heat to a simmer. Stir in saffron, add fish cubes, cover and remove from heat.

Toast your bread slices for about 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven, until hard. Meanwhile, make your aioli: in a mortar and pestle, combine garlic cloves with 1 tsp. salt. Grind to a paste, then add egg yolk and a pinch of saffron. Mix until smooth, and then begin drizzling in your olive oil, a little at a time, stirring constantly with your pestle to emulsify. Continue this way until you’ve incorporated all the olive oil and have a thick golden mayonnaise.

To serve: Place a slice of toast in a soup bowl, and top with a tablespoon of aioli. Ladle the soup over the bread, including chunks of fish in each serving.

Wine suggestion: a dry white such as sauvignon blanc or a Pouilly-Fuisse. A hoppy ale would also be good.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    May 22, 2012 @ 02:24:34

    Wow…87…Sig lived forever…tell him I’ve walked in his footsteps…he’s left a little legacy there…Already a practicing therapist as an intern…


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    May 22, 2012 @ 02:25:08

    …and JUST graduated from Chapman University!!


  3. Andy
    May 22, 2012 @ 04:14:56

    I’m just not going to touch this…..


  4. Michelle
    May 23, 2012 @ 00:37:53

    What a face on that fish!


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