At the village market, my friend Pepa buys a couple of small white fish, a handful of clams, a few shrimp. I ask what she’s preparing. " Una sopa marinera, de pescado,” she replies. A fish soup. Nothing fancy, no complications, just a simple home-style fish soup, ready in minutes.
That’s the Spanish way with fish soups - many are as simple as the one Pepa was making -- fresh fish boiled briefly, strained and flaked, then the broth flavored with olive oil, garlic and pimenton to serve over slices of sturdy bread with the bits of fish. Others get flavor from an unusual ingredient, such as the juice of sour oranges, crushed nuts or a dash of sherry.
And all of them are readily adaptable to the California kitchen. The fish might be different, but the spirit of easy improvisation and the splendid flavor will be the same.
In Spain, monkfish, a fish with an enormous, ugly head and sweet, bone-free flesh, is much favored for soup. The head goes into the stock pot and the firm flesh goes into the soup. In the U.S., use any white fish -- monkfish, halibut, rock cod, pollock, barramundi, croaker, lingcod or white seabass. Squid and cuttlefish add much flavor to a stock and, once cooked, can be added to the soup as well. Shrimp and other crustaceans add to a soup’s flavor. Clams are allowed to open right in the soup. They make a little clatter as the soup is ladled into bowls. Even in the best restaurants, you have to get your fingers into the soup to eat them.
In the bowl of a blender, place the egg. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow stream until it is emulsified (it will thicken like a mayonnaise). Blend in the lemon juice, then set aside. (If the emulsion happens to “break” while it is blended, simply pour out the mixture and add a fresh egg white to the blender container. Add the mixture in a slow stream to fix the emulsion.)
In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, add the fish stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, until somewhat softened but not cooked through. Add the peas and cook an additional 5 minutes.
Add the chunks of fish, ham, shrimp and sherry. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.
With the blender running, ladle about 1 cup of the hot broth from the soup into the emulsion in the blender and blend until smooth. Remove the soup from the heat and whisk the emulsion into the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. The soup can be reheated, but do not boil. This makes a generous 2 1/2 quarts of soup.
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