Saturday, December 8, 2018


‘Tis the season for one of my favorite soups, a lavish seafood extravaganza with fish and a couple kinds of shellfish. It’s perfect as a main course for family meals and for casual entertaining--maybe a tree-trimming party?—as well as an elegant starter for the cena de Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve dinner when it’s traditional to serve both  fish and shellfish (as well as meat).

My favorite seafood soup--perfect as a starter for Christmas dinner.

Deep flavour comes from shrimp shells. Soup has shrimp, clams and monkfish.

Or, serve it as a main course for a casual dinner party.

The soup needs a lot of prepping—peeling shrimp, making stock, seasoning and simmering the soup. But all of that can be done in advance. Fish stock can be made weeks before and frozen (or store-bought). Clams can be steamed open a day or two before and refrigerated. At mealtime, you only need to reheat the soup and cook the chunks of fish and the shrimp.

Save the heads and tails to add depth of flavour to the soup.

Crustacean shells (shrimp, lobster or crab) give this soup real depth of flavor, so, if possible, choose shrimp with heads and shells. If these are not available where you shop, buy extra shrimp to use in building flavor for the soup base. Shrimp for the soup can be small, medium or large, your choice. While the “vein” (it’s not really a vein), like a dark thread running the length of the shrimp, is edible, in jumbo shrimp it’s aesthetically unpleasing. Pull or cut it out. In small shrimp, the vein may not even be noticeable—don’t bother removing it.

Building flavour--shrimp heads and shells flavor the olive oil to cook the sofrito.

Two fillets of monkfish (not all of it is needed for the soup). The enormous monkfish head was used to make fish stock.

Use a solid-fleshed fish that won’t disintegrate in cooking. Monkfish (rape),halibut, snapper, grouper (mero) or bass (lubina) are all good. Monkfish is my favorite—the huge head is perfect for stock (below is a link to another post with a recipe for fish stock) and the tail is easy to separate into two bone-free segments, perfect for cutting into bite-size pieces.  Add the chunks of fish to the finished soup shortly before serving. They need only 5 to 10 minutes to cook.

If you leave the clams in their shells (typical), provide bowls at the table for discarding the shells. If you prefer, remove the shells after they are steamed open and before adding to the soup.

The fish soup is usually served with strips of bread fried in olive oil, although any crusty bread is fine. It can be embellished with cooked rice or vegetables (I used beet greens in one iteration).

Typically, the seafood soup is served with strips of bread fried in olive oil.

Holiday Seafood Soup
Sopa de Pescados y Mariscos

Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main.

1 pound whole, unpeeled shrimp
1 pound clams and/or mussels, scrubbed
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped leeks (white part only)
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped carrot
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup peeled and diced tomatoes
¼ cup brandy
½ cup white wine
½ teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
8-9 cups fish stock
Pinch of cayenne
Salt to taste
Pinch of saffron threads, crushed
Sprig of thyme
1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 slices toasted bread
1 pound boneless monkfish, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup cream (optional)
Chopped parsley, to garnish
Fried bread to serve (optional)

Peel the shrimp, devein and reserve them, refrigerated. Keep the heads and shells, refrigerated or frozen

Put the clams in a small pan with ½ cup water. Cover and place them on a high heat until shells open. Reserve clams, refrigerated. Pass the liquid through a fine sieve. Add it to the fish stock.

Heat 1/3 cup oil In a deep pan. Add the shrimp heads and shells (or other crustraceans). Fry them, turning and pressing them with a wooden spatula so they release all their juices into the oil. Place a heat-proof strainer over a bowl. Empty the oil and shells into the strainer, allowing the oil to strain into the bowl. Discard the shells.

Return the shrimp-flavored oil to the pan. To prepare the sofrito, sauté the leeks, onion, carrots and garlic, stirring frequently, until onion begins to brown, 5 minutes. Add the tomato and continue frying until tomatoes are deep red and reduced to a jam consistency.

Add the brandy (you can flambé it, if you like) and let it cook off. Add the wine and stir until alcohol is cooked off (2 minutes). Stir in the pimentón.

Add 2 cups of the fish stock. Season with cayenne, salt, saffron, thyme and fennel. Cook until vegetables are soft, 15 minutes. Break the toasted bread into pieces and add it to the vegetables. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes more.

Discard the sprig of thyme. Puree the vegetable-stock mixture in a blender or food processor. If you want a really smooth soup, pass it through a chinoise strainer. 

Put the puree in a soup pot with the remaining fish stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for salt. If fish stock was salted, the soup may not need additional salt. (The soup can be prepared in advance up to this point. Cool it and store, refrigerated, until ready to finish.)

Shortly before serving time, bring the soup to a boil. Add the chunks of monkfish and cook them until done, 8-10 minutes. Add the steamed clams to the soup to reheat. 

Sauté the peeled shrimp in a skillet with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Keep them warm. Add the cream, if using, to the soup and heat. Add the shrimp to the soup and serve immediately. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Recipe for fish stock and another seafood stew here.
Another recipe with monkfish: Monkfish, Mariner's Style.


  1. Hi there!

    Would love to come and stay with you to learn cooking. Is that possible?

    1. Michelle: I have a guest cottage for rent (sleeps two), with option of cooking classes. I'll be posting more about it in the new year. Or DM to jmendelspain at gmail dot com.