Saturday, March 12, 2016


In the first several years that I lived in Spain, we always went to Málaga during Semana Santa (Holy Week) to see the religious processions, with their amazing pageantry. Drums and trumpets keeping a mournful rhythm. Flowers, candles, hooded penitents. The thrilling squad of legionnaires marching behind the Christ of the Good Death. Images of the Virgin Mary with jeweled teardrops. The piercing wail of a saeta, a love song to the Virgin.

It seemed there was a bar on every corner, offering tapas special for Holy Week—salt cod, shrimp, fried fish. There was someone to run out with beers for the costaleros—burly men carrying the heavy floats bearing sacred images of Christ crucified.

It was usually 2 or 3 in the morning as we watched the processions wend their way back to their home churches. By then, cold and tired, we needed a pick-me-up.

Chunks of fish and clams in a saffron broth, a fine pick-me-up soup.

Traditionally, the soup was served in bowls like this one. In the old days, coffee was served in bowls too.

This soup, caldillo de pintarroja, a Málaga specialty, is just the ticket--warming, restorative, eye-opening. Once a fishermen’s pre-dawn wake-up brew, it became a favorite tapa in Málaga bars and is much touted as a cure-all after a night of bar-hopping. Unusually in Spanish cooking, the soup packs a real jolt of chile.

Caldillo actually means “broth,” not soup. The broth has chunks of fish—pintarroja—and clams in it.  Ground almonds and bread thicken it slightly.

Pintarroja (Scyliorhinus canicula) is a very small member of the shark family, similar to the much larger cazón or dogfish. Like other specimens, it does not have bones, but rather a spine of cartilage, making the fish easy to eat.

Plate for bones and shells.
This is a real working-man’s soup, so it’s served with “bones” and clam shells. Provide side plates for the desperdicios, the remains. If you prefer a more “couth” version, cook the pieces of pintarroja in the stock, strain them out and, when cool enough to handle, remove the center “bone” (cartilage). Or, use bone-free chunks of fish, such as dogfish or monkfish.

In the traditional version of this soup, not saffron, but colorante is used for the vibrant gold color. I've used saffron here.

It’s many years since I have been to Málaga during Holy Week. Now, I can watch the processions on TV. But, I do miss the wonderful tapas.

Broth with Fish and Clams
Caldillo de Pintarroja

How much chile? The soup should be picante—spicy-hot. But the quantity depends on what chile you’re using and your tolerance for hot foods. Spaniards generally have a very low tolerance! I used two small dried cayenne chiles for a very medium hit. Still, it was a good wake-up soup.

I bought three pintarrojas, each weighing about 1/2 pound. I used two for this recipe. They were already cleaned and skinned. The polka-dotted skin is so rough that it used to be used as sandpaper. Flesh of any of the sharks must be eaten very fresh or else preserved in an adobo marinade.

Serves 6.

1 pound skinned dogfish or monkfish
¾ pound clams
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup blanched and skinned almonds
2 slices bread, crusts removed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup peeled and chopped tomato
Chile peppers, to taste
8 cups fish stock or water
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon saffron, crushed
Málaga seco wine (optional)
Sprigs of mint or parsley, to serve
Lemon wedges, to serve

Cut fish into pieces.
Cut the pintarroja crosswise into 1-inch pieces. (If using dogfish or monkfish, cut into 1-inch cubes.) Wash the fish well. Put the clams in a bowl of lightly salted water so they disgorge any sand.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet and fry the almonds, bread and garlics, stirring, until they are golden. Remove.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and sauté the onion and green pepper until softened, 3 minutes. Add the tomato and chile and continue sautéing until tomatoes release their juice.

Heat the fish stock or water in a soup pot. Add ½ cup of the stock to the crushed saffron. 

Blend almonds, sofrito.
Place the fried almonds, bread and garlics in a blender container. Add the sofrito of onions, peppers, tomatoes and chile. Add the cumin and saffron and its liquid. Blend to make a fairly smooth paste.

Whisk the paste into the stock in the pot. Add salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon, unless the stock is already very salty). Bring to a boil, stirring, and cook 5 minutes. The bread and almonds will thicken the broth slightly.

Add the pieces of fish and the clams. Cook until clam shells open, 5 to 6 minutes. If desired, add a little Málaga seco wine. Serve the soup very hot garnished with mint. Serve accompanied by lemon wedges.

Fish chunk has center cartilage.
The "bone" for discard.

Garnish the soup with fragrant mint and lemon wedges.

Another recipe for pintarroja is here.

Watch the Spanish Foreign Legionnaires in the ceremony carrying the image of the Christ of the Good Death, Málaga Holy Week, 2015 .

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