Another soup with shrimp bursting with flavours and textures: a mix of elements from Southern bouillabaisse and Northern chowder … How’s that for eclectic?
It might look like an elaborate dish but the process of preparation is simple and straightforward and you can have a great dinner ready in a flash. I love the background Provencal taste and versatility of this soup: you can replace the ingredients almost as you please. Make it vegetarian by swapping fish & shrimp for green beans, pasta and pistou; stock for vegetarian and, voilà, a take on Ina Garten’s Provencal Vegetable Soup. Or, if you have a variety of small fresh fish and some mussels – skip the potatoes and carrots and bring the assorted fish and seafood in, add some zesty roux and you gotcha – home-made bouillabaisse…
Although this soup is featuring fish and crustaceans prominently, the real star of it is a small fennel bulb and/or crushed fennel seeds. Yep, that is the ingredient that delivers a unique taste of Provence in combination with saffron, garlic, tomatoes, wine and stock. Not to mention how famously well it goes with fish, potatoes and olives. Anise is another name used for fennel, the smell and flavor of which many find difficult to warm to, but if you are already a fan of bouillabaissethis should not be an issue. I noticed long time ago that sometimes those who like fennel don’t like dill and vice versa (kind of Southern vs Northern taste), but hopefully the combination of both in this dish will bring more converts from both sides.
This soup is seriously packed with good-for-you stuff, but first a few more words about fennel. In addition to the dramatic list of its health benefits
of this herb, it is considered to be one of the 9 sacred herbs of Anglo-Saxons
. And here are some few curious historical facts about this mysterious plant (you might or might not know about):
– In Ancient Greece, the word marathon meant ‘’place of fennel’
. The battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. which happened in a plain with fennel was named after it. Consequently, the name of long-distance endurance race, the ‘’marathon’’, comes from the legend of those times when a Greek runner who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He ran the whole distance non-stop, and collapsed from exhaustion upon reaching the destination and proclaiming ‘’We have won!’’
– According to the Greek myth, the fire was stolen from the gods by Prometheus, who hid it in a hollow fennel stalk (and paid a big price for that as we know).
– The ancient Romans believed that chewing fennel controls the obesity.
– In Medieval times fennel was put in the keyholes to keep out ghosts and spirits, particularly on Midsummer’s Eve when evil spirits were thought to roam freely as the sun turned southwards.
Fennel has been used with preparing fish since long time ago. Nicholas Culpepper, English botanist and physician of the mid 1600s wrote that fennel ‘’consumes that phlegmatic humour, which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason for its benefit this way is because it is an herb of Mercury and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces.’’
The Ancient Romans, Chinese and Hindus used fennel as an antidote to poisons. According to Culpepper, fennel was an effective antidote for poisonous mushrooms and snake bites and was used as a treatment for the bites of rabid dogs.
Back to our soup. Here are some useful tips on this wonderful and hearty concoction.
Selecting fish & shrimp: I used salmon fillets and peeled Nordic shrimp this time and it worked very well. Most of the time, however, I find salmon a bit boring and use white, firm cold water fish, such as, grouper, haddock or cod. As for the shrimp, please feel free to use the crustacean of your choice.
Giving your soup a heft: I am not a big fan of flour or starch thickening, so when I wish to make my soup heavier, I just add a few tablespoons of corn meal (which is neutral and gluten free) 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
Step No. 1: boiling potatoes and carrots separately will help them to cook faster than when they are in the acidic environment. Step No. 2: when sautéing veggies, let them sit in the frying pan a little bit before stirring to allow a bit of caramelizing, don’t just jump on stirring all the time. Add a bit of water or wine if your veggies stick to the skillet. Step No.3: While it’s good to have a tasty home-made broth added to it, you will still have a very palatable result without it – just replace the stock with boiled water.
Killer App: If you don’t have any fresh fennel, use some crashed fennel seeds for that Southern kick and make a cultural substitution, i.e. celery instead of fennel bulb.
Optionally, add black or green olives and/or capers into the plates when ladling soup in for an extra Mediterranean kick. Enjoy!
Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal
2 cups of water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small carrot, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fennel seeds crushed (optional)
½ tsp chili flakes
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white part only, julienned
1 small fennel bulb (or 2 celery stalks), fronds removed, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14 oz) tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine (or 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons fresh dill (or parsley), chopped
½ lb salmon (grouper, haddock, or other white firm fish) fillet
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
4 cups fish (or chicken) stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Fresh dill, chopped for garnish
In a large pot, add potatoes, carrots and bay leaves; cover with 2 cups of water, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside.
In the meantime, cut the fish into small cubes and put aside along with shrimps.
Heat the olive oil, butter, chili flakes and fennel seeds in the skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion, leek, fennel and garlic and sauté over the medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the veggies softened. Add tomatoes and sauté for another 2 minutes until they begin to break down. Add wine, increase to high heat and stir for 2 minutes. Add fish and shrimp* and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add stock, orange zest and bring to boil. Incorporate with cooked potatoes and carrots. Bring to boil, skim the foam (if any) and simmer stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Verify the seasoning. Ladle the soup into plates and serve immediately with lemon wedges and crusted bread on the side.
*If shrimp is already cooked, add it to the soup 2 minutes before the end.