Recipe: Flavour fiesta - Caldo de pescado (Galician fish soup with clams and prawns)

Caldo de pescado fish soup.
Delicious Caldo de pescado.
I have yet to visit Galicia, but it is very much on my ‘to do’ list. Perched at the very north-western corner of Spain, it is meant to be beautifully mountainous and has a much more temperate climate than the rest of the country, thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic. Given Galicia’s closeness to the ocean, and the fact its coastline is more than 1,500 km in length, it’s unsurprising that fishing is a mainstay of the region’s economy. Vigo – Galicia’s main port – is believed to be second only to Tokyo in terms of the quantity of fish landed annually, with an incredible 733,000 metric tons of seafood passing through the port in 2007.

This wee geography lesson is just my way of getting to the point that Galicians love their seafood, and they have some fantastic ways to prepare it. When cooking with good quality, fresh seafood, dishes don’t necessarily have to be complicated. This recipe for Caldo de pescado (Galician fish soup with clams and prawns) demonstrates that fact beautifully. It’s my own take on a recipe that appears in the Casa Moro cookbook, and which originates from one of Moro’s Galician chefs, David Loureiro Martinez.


Ingredients for fish stock.
Stock ingredients - just add water!
Key to this dish is the preparation of fresh fish stock. I go beyond the original recipe, and use bones from the fishmonger and a few vegetables to augment the prawn shells, in order to produce a deeply seafood-flavoured liquid, with just the slightest hint of fennel, onion and carrot.

I also “cleanse” the clams of any grit they may contain, before cooking. This is easily achieved by immersing them in a couple of litres of brine (made up of 35g of sea salt dissolved in each litre of cold water) and placing in the fridge for an hour or two. The brine is effectively artificial seawater, and will encourage the clams to open their shells, thereby allowing sand and grit to fall out.


Home-made fish stock.
Fab, finished fish stock.
This flavoursome broth will feed 4 people as a lunch, or up to 6 as a starter.

Ingredients

Seafood stock
  • Fish bones and/or heads, from your local fishmonger
  • Shells from the prawns (see below)
  • 1 medium onion, unpeeled and halved
  • Half a bulb of fennel, intact
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 litres of water
For the soup
  • 1 large tomato, skinned, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 500g small to medium clams – such as palourdes or venus, (use mussels if clams unavailable)
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
  • ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds (optional)
  • 3 bay leaves – fresh ones if you can get them
  • 3 teaspoons of good quality sweet smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon of hot smoked paprika
  • A good pinch of saffron (around 40 threads), infused in 6 tablespoons of boiling water
  • 100g basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to season

Preparation and cooking
  1. Shell the prawns, keeping the shells and heads aside, and put them in the fridge.
  2. Heat four tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a high heat. When the oil is hot – but not smoking – add the prawn shells and fry, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes until they change colour and emit a nutty, seafood smell.
  3. Add the halved onion, carrot, fennel, thyme, and fish bones/heads, followed by the water. Bring to the boil and then simmer over a low heat for about half an hour. Turn off the heat and allow to cool before straining the stock through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside.
  4. Rinse the clams with cold water in a colander, discarding any that are broken or remain open. Leave them to drain.
  5. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil over a medium heat until hot. Add the chopped onion with a pinch of salt and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and turns golden.
  6. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and bay leaves and fry, stirring a couple of times, for 3-5 minutes – make sure you do not burn the garlic, as it will taste bitter.
  7. Add the two paprikas and chopped tomato and fry for a further minute, stirring.
  8. Pour in the saffron infusion, rice, half the parsley and the fish stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the rice is cooked, about 10-15 minutes.
  9. When the rice is cooked, add the clams, and once these have opened (after a few minutes), remove from the heat and stir in the prawns to allow these to heat through. If you are using raw prawns make sure that these are fully cooked.
  10. Add the remaining parsley, stir and then check the seasoning.

Serve with tasty fresh bread, such as sourdough.
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