Total time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Note: Crustacean shells (shrimp, lobster or crab) give this soup real depth of flavor, so, if possible, choose shrimp with heads and shells.
1 pound whole, small shrimp
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 leeks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup white wine
8 cups simple fish stock, divided
1 cup diced tomatoes
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
Pinch of crushed saffron threads
2 slices toasted bread, broken into pieces
1 1/2 pounds boneless monkfish, cut into 1-inch pieces and/or lobster chunks
1/2 pound Manila or littleneck clams (or ¼ cup shucked clams)
Chopped parsley to garnish
1. Peel the shrimp and reserve them. Keep the heads and shells.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat one-fourth cup of oil over high heat until hot. Sauté the leeks, onion and carrot for 5 minutes to soften, stirring frequently. Add the shrimp shells and heads and continue sautéing, stirring frequently, until the contents begin to brown. Remove from heat.
3. Add the brandy. Using a long match, carefully light the brandy on fire and flambé the mixture until flames subside. Add the wine, 1 cup of the fish stock, the tomatoes, cayenne, saffron and salt to taste. Loosely cover the pot and gently cook the mixture for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot while stirring to keep the mixture from burning).
4. Add the toasted bread and cook 10 more minutes.
5. Place the contents of the pot in a food processor or blender and grind as smoothly as possible. Press the pulp through a sieve, discarding the remains of shrimp shells.
6. Place the pulp in the pot, and whisk in the remaining fish stock. Bring to a boil, then loosely cover and gently simmer for 45 minutes. (The soup can be prepared in advance up to this point; cool then cover and refrigerate, and reheat before proceeding.)
7. Shortly before serving time, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet. Sauté the chunks of monkfish or lobster quickly, then add them to the gently simmering soup. Add the washed clams to the soup as well. Cook until the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the peeled shrimp and add to the soup. Taste again and season if desired. Continue to cook until shrimp are curled and clam shells are opened, about 3 minutes. This makes a generous 3 quarts of soup. Serve hot, garnished with chopped parsley.