Thursday, 8 November 2007

Psarosoupa (Ψαρόσουπα - fish soup)

We still have NOT turned the heating on in Hania, but we DID have our first thunderstorm for the season this week - a fantastic display of roars and flashes reminded us that winter is finally here. It's not very cold yet, but even so, the sun still shines enough to turn a cold dawn into a humid morning. This cold weather is a good reason to make fish soup, an easy but somewhat demanding meal, containing such a variety of ingredients that it will suit everyone's tastes. It's not a meal that can be frozen, but it provides two completely different kinds of dishes, which compensates for the extra effort required to make this meal.

I use frozen fish to make this meal, although fresh fish can be used - but it's too expensive in Hania. A family of four could need 25 euro worth of fresh fish to make a decent fish soup - no thanks, not for my purse. Choose a fish species that has lots of thick meat on it. I like the taste and texture of red mullet. I also used another large plump fish which we call fangri in Greece. The more variety, the more delicious the soup will taste. You also need a variety of winter vegetables. The traditional Greek ones for this soup are carrot, onion, celery, courgettes and potatoes. I hate using courgettes in the winter, as they can only be grown in a greenhouse (these are my husband's choice); my 'foreign' additions include broccoli and brussel sprouts, but I would also add any other firm green vegetable that is in season. By the way, the ingredients and the method for making this soup are exactly the same as for meat soup, except that you use chunks of beef instead of fish (of course, ha, ha, ha).

I like to use five pieces of fish for this meal, and any amount of vegetables that I have available. The boiled veges make a wonderful hot or cold salad, with the traditional Greek olive oil-lemon-and-salt dressing. When preparing the vegetables and fish, clean them and leave everything whole. In a large pot, place the vegetables that need the most cooking to become tender, eg carrots. At the top of the pot, place the vegetables that need the least cooking, eg celery. Let the pot boil away until the veges are done. Then carefully lift them out and place them on a large dish, each kind heaped on its own. It will look beautiful. Now place the fish, slightly thawed with as few scales as possible in the pot and let them cook till done (when the flesh is tender); it doesn't need a long time. Lift the fish out of the pot when done and remove the skin, bones and innards, and place it on top of the veges or on the side in its own mound. It doesn't matter if it breaks up. Put the fish and vege platter aside. At this point, you can choose to serve the platter on its own, or make the soup and serve that on its own or accompanied by the fish and veges. We usually eat the platter contents in one meal, and I make the soup for the evening meal, to warm us up on a cold winter's night.

Now take the wonderfully aromatic stock you have just created with the fish and vegetables, and strain it through a colander into another pot; at this point, you are probably wondering how many items of crockery and kitchen utensils you will have lightly scented with the smell of the sea. Don't worry, you're almost there... Take a small piece of fish, half a potato, half a carrot, a bit of onion, a few leaves of brussel srpouts and a bit of courgette (which I wouldn't use myself) and blend them to a soft pulp with two large fresh tomatoes. If they don't blend well, add some stock to help in the liquidisation. Pour the pulp into the stock, and heat it up. When it is warm, add just enough rice to turn the stock into a soup (and not a pilau rice dish). Season the soup with salt and pepper, and add some olive oil so that the soup is not watery. The soup must be served immediately. Serve it in soup plates, and set a small plate for each diner to allow them to help themselves to the warmed-up platter of fish and vegetables. There should be lemon halves, salt and a bottle of olive oil on the table to allow each person to dress the fish and veges to their liking. If you serve it on its own, it can also be accompanied by a variety of cheeses. Don't forget the crunchy sourdough bread and a good glass of white wine!

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