I’ll never forget the meal I ate the first time we visited Marseille way back in 2008. We were novice travellers at the time, and spent most days delighted and intimidated by the food choices on offer. We’d wander around French towns and villages, trying to decide what and where to eat. Some days we chose better than others.
But on this particular day, my interest was captured by a harbour side restaurant’s menu du jour, which was jauntily written on a blackboard. It didn’t take me long to decide that I was unlikely to find anything better for my lunch than soupe de poisson, moules-frites and crème brûlée, so we managed to secure ourselves a table.
Every mouthful of the meal was delicious. But it was the fish soup that really stood out. Marseille is renowned for its decadent bouillabaisse which is brimming with fishy deliciousness. And while this particular soup certainly couldn’t compare with a bouillabaisse, it was my first introduction to a classic Provençal soupe de poisson.
Fast forward to last weekend, and I suddenly had a craving for a bowl of fish soup. Which, after realising that it would likely be quite difficult to track down in Melbourne, I concluded to cook it myself. My vast range of cookbooks gave me many fabulous looking options. They also provided a deep insight into the fact that a lot of time and effort can go into a seemingly simple dish.
Given I didn’t have an hour and a half before I wanted to eat the soup nor did I have a food-mill to extract the yumminess, I decided to head to the internet for easier alternatives. Which I did manage to find. But those recipes seemed light on in terms of flavourful ingredients. It occurred to me that I had nothing to lose, and created my own recipe. Which I was pretty happy with – so much so, that I’ve decided to share it here. The recipe served four hungry diners for lunch.
Soupe de Poisson
- Splash of olive oil
- An onion, finely chopped
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- A few fennel tops, if you have them, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed. Or garlic granules. Or garlic powder. A big sprinkle if you’re going the dried versions.
- Teaspoon of fennel seeds
- Pinch of saffron threads.
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 glass of white wine
- Big splash of pastis
- 1 tin of finely chopped tomatoes
- Half a tin of water
- 500 ml of fish stock
- 500 gms of raw marinara seafood mix
- Small sourdough baguette, thinly sliced
- Grated cheddar or swiss cheese
- Dijon mustard for serving – in place of the more traditional rouille
- Place a large soup pot on the stove. Sweat onion, leek, carrot and fennel tops in olive oil.
- Throw in garlic, saffron, fennel seeds, bay leaves and thyme.
- When vegetables have softened, add tomato paste and cook for a minute. Turn up heat, add white wine and let it bubble for a second before adding pastis.
- Return to boil before adding tomatoes. Swirl water in tomato tin and add to pot, before adding fish stock.
- As it warms up, check your marinara mix. Devein any prawns and discard any mussels or pipis that aren’t tightly closed.
- Add fish to pot, bring to boil, then turn down heat cover and simmer for around 45 minutes.
- In the meantime make sourdough croutons by toasting slices in the oven.
- Just before serving remove prawn tails (it pays to count them as you add them to the soup), mussel or pipi shells, bay leaves and thyme stalks.
- Use a stick blender to turn everything into a thick smooth soupe de poisson.
- Serve soup with sourdough croutons, which diners spread with mustard and sprinkle with cheese. Enjoy.
I’d love to know – have you tried soupe de poisson in France? Do you have any special food memories from your travels? Please share in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.