When you make soup do you always follow a precise recipe?
The answer, for me, is that it depends on whether or not I have all of the ingredients at home. In other words, how well did I plan ahead. Generally I tend to stick to the recipe and tweak it if I need to — but you know this is the beauty of making a pot of soup, you simply combine a bunch of ingredients and end up with a magical, nourishing mixture.
Caldo de pescado, or fish soup, was a meal that my mother made for us and something that I always looked forward to eating. I still haven’t asked her for her recipe because I prefer that when she makes it again for me, that hers remain that special recipe and flavour. My caldo de pescado is different than my mother’s — in fact, I actually have three different versions that I make depending on what I have in the fridge. Additionally if you’ve eaten Mexican fish soup you may notice several differences in that version and in the recipe I’m sharing with you today. Later on I will be sharing the more traditional red coloured caldo de pescado that some of you may have previously eaten.
Today I’d like to show you the simple, hassle-free version that anyone, regardless if you have access to fresh seafood or not, can make. This is a version that I started making when I lived in Prague and didn’t have access to either Mexican ingredients or a wide-range of fish — so again, anyone, anywhere can make this soup.
Traditionally in Mexico soup is served with warm corn tortillas or plain tostadas, you can choose either or neither. My husband and I love eating this light soup with some steamed white rice (I added turmeric this time for an added health benefit) and a few corn tortillas. Again, it’s all a matter of personal taste. One thing that we Mexicans will always have on the table are lime — you cannot eat soup without some fresh lime juice! The lime juice makes the fish flavours pop and it adds a wonderful seasoning to the tender vegetables too. So try not to skip the lime, or if you don’t have them then lemons work great too.
- 2 large whole, firm fish (or substitute with 4 firm, fish fillets)*
- half a medium white onion or one small white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 medium-large potatoes, cut into even-size large pieces (cleaned them throughly so you don't have to peel off their skin)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into large even-sized pieces
- 2 stalks of celery with their leaves, throughly rinsed and sliced into large even-sized pieces
- one large zucchini, sliced into large even-sized pieces
- 2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced (I use 4 for extra flavour, but you can use less if desired)
- 2 to 4 whole dry chile de arbol (adjust amount to taste or omit for no heat)
- one large bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons of sea salt, adjust to taste and add one at a time
- small bunch of flat leaf parsley, including stems
- 1.5 Tablespoons of olive oil or vegetable oil of choice
- enough water to cover ingredients
- cooked shrimp shells, optional**
- You'll need a very large pot for the soup, place it on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Once the pot feels hot add the oil and allow it to warm up for a minute, then add the roughly chopped onion and sauté until soft. Next add the garlic, carrots and celery and sauté for 5 minutes then sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt and give the ingredients a stir.
- Now add the potato pieces into the pot, then carefully place the whole fish pieces on top of the vegetables -- if using fillets do not add them yet. Add the bay leaf, the dry chiles, and the fresh parsley to the pot. Carefully pour in just enough water to cover the ingredients, then turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and leave to simmer. You do not need to stir the pot, in fact don't, so that you can try to keep the fish from breaking up.
- If you are using the shrimp shells then put them in a separate small pot and cover with water. Allow to come to a boil, turn off the heat. Now we need to drain the shells from the broth -- which we need to pour into the other soup ingredients that have been simmering. So either place a colander over the soup pot or over a large bowl and drain off (collect) the shrimp broth. BE CAREFUL not to burn yourself. Discard the shrimp shells.
- If you are using the fish fillets you may add them to the pot now. Cover the pot and allow to simmer until the fish is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Once that has happen you can add the zucchini pieces and allow them to cook -- about 5 to 8 minutes, do not overcook the zucchini or it will completely fall apart. Now taste the soup and if needed add the remaining teaspoon or adjust to your taste. Allow to simmer another 5 minutes.
- To serve first very carefully remove the fish fillets or whole fish pieces from the pot and place them in the soup bowl. Then you can ladle the vegetables and broth over and around the fish. Serve with warm corn tortillas and/or steamed rice, and with lemon wedges.
**Thes shrimp shells also help to give the soup more flavour, so next time you cook shrimp do save them for making broth. If you don't have any available don't worry, you can skip them.
As you can see this recipe is super easy and can be made with ingredients readily available to all. The fish doesn’t have to be an expensive species, whatever is locally available to you — and it can be from the sea or fresh water fish, it doesn’t matter. The vegetables are all inexpensive and in season all year long. In the end you’ll end up with a soup that is lightly but filling, has a fish flavour that doesn’t overpower the other ingredients, and is finished off with a sweet-tart lime touch. It tastes fantastic.
I always end up making enough for two meals, and sometimes we do and others we don’t have fish leftover in the pot. But that’s okay because the next day the broth and the veggies taste even better. Just a few days ago when I made this pot of caldo I was nursing a yucky cough so the next day we ate the leftovers for dinner. Since there was no fish left I decided to add protein to the soup by dropping in some cooked large white beans I had in the fridge. Additionally after the soup had reheated I added a bunch of fresh spinach leaves (without the stems) and allowed them just to wilt before serving. I honestly wasn’t sure how it would turn out, being fish flavoured and beans added to it, but the result was fantastic. I think next time I will experiment with this combination again.
Thank you amigos for stopping by. I hope that you give this yummy soup a try sometime, specially now that autumn is here and winter is fast approaching, it will keep you nice and toasty.