Thursday, February 18, 2010

MEDITERRANEAN SEAFOOD CHOWDER

New Englanders may protest that their beloved chowder has “protected geographical denomination” and can’t possibly have a Mediterranean inflection. But, according to the dictionary, chowder is “a thick soup or stew, typically made of clams or fish and various vegetables”. By that definition, this Spanish fish soup certainly qualifies. Besides, its creamy, white color and the inclusion of potatoes and ham make me think of chowder. So, although  chowder doesn’t really translate to Spanish, that’s what I named it in English.



 
In southern Spain, where this soup comes from, it’s called gazpachuelo, sopa Viña AB (the name of a brand of Sherry), sopa sevillana or sopa malagueña. Its lovely, creamy consistency comes, not from milk or cream, but from an emulsion of olive oil and egg.

Which is why I am making this Mediterranean chowder for dinner tonight.  A few days ago, writing about my new olive oil  (you can read about that here ), I prepared a batch of alioli, garlic mayonnaise—an emulsion of olive oil and egg. I served it as a party dip to guests, but I still have some left over—the starting point for the soup. I only needed to buy fish and shrimp.

I like to make this soup as a main course dish, loaded with chunks of fish. I usually use fresh hake (merluza), a white fish related to cod. I use the head, bones and trimmings to make a simple stock. The chunks of boneless fish cook quickly and are added to the soup at the very last minute. Any white fish could be substituted for hake. I used halibut when cooking in Seattle. Small clams are often included too. If you use them, steam them open first, discard shells and add the clams to the soup at the last minute.

MEDITERRANEAN SEAFOOD CHOWDER
GAZPACHUELO


Don’t boil the soup after you whisk in the egg-oil mixture or it will separate.

Serves 6.

1 egg, room temperature
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups simple fish stock (recipe follows)
1 ½ cups diced potatoes
¼  cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen
1 ½  cups boneless chunks of white fish
¼ cup chopped serrano ham
1/3 cup peeled shrimp (3 ounces)
¼ cup dry Sherry
salt, to taste

Place the egg in a blender container. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow stream until it is thick and emulsified. Blend in the lemon juice and salt. Set aside.

Put the fish stock in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer, covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes more.

Then add the chunks of fish, ham, shrimp and Sherry. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

With the motor running, ladle some of the hot soup into the emulsion in the blender. Remove the soup from the heat and whisk the emulsion into the soup. Serve immediately. The soup can be reheated, but do not boil.
   
Simple fish stock:

Makes 10 cups stock. Remaining stock can be frozen.

1 pound small fish, fish heads, bones, trimmings plus any shrimp shells
12 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
½ onion, sliced
strip of lemon peel
strip of orange peel
1 stalk of celery
small carrot, split lengthwise
several stems of parsley
pinch of thyme

Place all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil and skim. Partially cover and simmer for 1 hour. Strain the stock and discard solids.

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