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.