About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Easy Fish Soup
Being a bit of a fisherman means that I have access to a lot of very fresh fish. There is one particular fish that if you fish saltwater anywhere in Victoria, you will almost certainly encounter, and that is the ubiquitous flathead. This fish has started many a junior angler on the way to a life long hobby and has also saved many a fishing trip for not just novices and party boats, but for experienced anglers as well.

There are quite a few species of flathead and all but one of them, the rock flathead, bite freely. They also breed rapidly which means there is an almost inexhaustible supply though populations can fluctuate by as much as 200 % depending on environmental factors such as river discharge and natural climate variation and if you were to fish Port Phillip bay for example, you would have to be seriously doing something wrong, not to catch a few sand flathead at least. It is the one fish you can depend on.

The sand flathead is interesting because a specimen around the legal size may be just a few years old or twenty-three years old, which is thought to be the maximum age for this fish, and larger specimens inhabit shallower water than smaller fish, which tend to be in the deeper parts of the bay, so as you move towards the shore you will catch less fish but they should be larger. In other states, notably Queensland and New South Wales, dusky flathead can reach the enormous size of fifteen kilos, but the sand flathead is pretty much full grown at around 25 to 30 cm with the legal size being 25 cm, though some female fish do grow larger.

What this means is that an angler could finish up with a bag of very small legal sized fish and the problem is that with fish of this size there are very many fine, small bones that are virtually impossible to remove without wasting a fair proportion of flesh. You could pick out the bones after cooking whilst eating, but you do need to pay attention to what's in your mouth and be careful not to swallow any bones, which is a bit of a drag.

So what is the best thing to do with these small fish? Well, you need to think of another country where they have made a national dish out of small fish which were the by-product of the catch and were hard to sell. What the fishermen did was to take these small fish and turn them into a soup that is most famously known as bouillabaisse, which has become such a classic that there are restaurants specializing in it. Now in France they like to use a few different species of small fish, with some considered indispensable such as rascasse, red mullet, weaver fish, grondin and conger eel, and it is this combination that is said to give the soup its particular character. Some of that character may also derive from the French habit of cooking their small fish guts and all.

However if you didn't have access to all those different species of fish, but did have a bag full of small flathead, you could still make a reasonable facsimile of the soup and not have to worry about the tiny bones. This is not the sort of soup I would attempt to make with the larger, more expensive flathead that you see in the fishmongers, nor would I use fillets, bones mean extra flavour and body for the soup. You could in fact turn it into a proto bouillabaisse with the addition of a few fillets of fish and any other adornments you felt like, but bouillabaisse always starts from a base of soupe de poissons (fish soup) and there is simply no need to go any further than this for a satisfyingly good soup, more so if you caught the fish yourself. Nor do you need to deny yourself the rich, earthy flavour of this soup if you don't have any flatheads available, simply use any small, cheap, sweet fleshed fish that are to hand. For instance leather jackets, small garfish and silver whiting would be fine choices, or whatever fish are plentiful in your area.

The recipe I'm giving is not traditional fish soup, especially without saffron, but came from what I had in the pantry at a time when I had a few flathead to deal with, so is somewhat simpler to make and the addition of two minute noodles made sure that my daughter M would eat it. It's funny that, if I try to add a few vegetables to her noodle soup there is much carry on, but if I add noodles to a soup I'm making, it is eaten without complaint!

Easy Fish Soup

6 small flathead, heads on, scaled and gutted
150 ml olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
1 bouquet garni
6 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 800 g tin chopped tomatoes
few shredded basil leaves
1 packet two minute noodles, chicken flavour*
salt and fresh ground pepper

Cut the flathead into chunks, pat dry and gently fry in 100 ml olive oil. When nicely browned add the white wine and boil until reduced by half, scraping all the brown bits up, then add the bouquet garni and enough water to generously cover. Slowly simmer for an hour or so. In another pot add the remaining olive oil and gently sweat the garlic then add the tomatoes and basil, simmer for half an hour. When the fish is cooked, remove the bouquet garni and pour the contents of the pot, heads and all, into a blender and liquidize. Pour this mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the tomato and garlic, pushing hard on the solids. Add the two minute noodles, I used the seasoning packet as well, your choice, add more water and simmer until the noodles are cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

*If you wanted to be more traditional, omit the noodles and add some thinly sliced potatoes instead.


  posted at 12:31 PM

At 2:23 PM, Blogger andrew said...

nice recipe - trying it tonight. but how many is it for, with six flathead?

At 3:11 PM, Blogger neil said...

It depends on how much water you use, but this would serve six comfortably.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this recipe turns the humble flattie into a gastronomic masterpiece!


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