Fish… my favourite dish

Photography by Annie Peel

Photography by Annie Peel

Whilst the weather ain’t exactly wintry just yet, it certainly is the time of year to start getting into soups and one pot wonders. The idea of eating a hot soup in summer is positively frightening so being able to cook and eat them again now must be one of the consolations for the sun going down earlier and earlier.

I love soups. I love thinking about them, I love making them and I love eating them. If I can I’m gonna get me cremated in a golden soup tureen instead of a walnut veneer coffin.

Stock is of course an important part of soup making. Purists will tell you that you should use no stock in vegetable soups as it takes away from the essential flavour. Be that as it may I almost invariably use stock in soups because I think it adds depth of flavour. The only time I use a stock cube is when cooking in the field, as it were, for example, making family paellas whilst camping on some beach in spring or now-ish. Apparently there are some good stock cubes out there. People say so. F*** that. If you have access to a kitchen, make a goddamn stock. Ranting aside it is a jolly good thing to do. But one cant always be bothered, right? And there are ways round this – basically by adding things that behave like stock ‘cos of their strong flavours.

For example:

I was in the market the other day and saw some good looking monkfish, if you can say such a thing about what has to be one of the most ugly and vicious looking mothers down there in them deep, dark waters. I bought me some. There was no monkfish head available (monkfish head makes THE best stock) so I got me some shell-on prawns, not only for their flesh but because they make insta-stock right there in the pan you are using. I decided I would make a version of arroz marinera – a soupy, ricey, fish dish. You see this on menus and I have always been disappointed when I have ordered it. It always seems lacking in the backing. Now it was my turn to have a go:

Arroz Marinera

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Photography by Annie Peel

Photography by Annie Peel

*1 kilo rock fish – monk, John Dory, rotxa (hardcore, firm, white-fleshed, expensive – the fish must be able to stand up to long cooking)

*12 shell-on prawns

*Good pinch of saffron*

*½ head of garlic – crushed

*1 long green pepper – diced

*A couple for sprigs of thyme

*A handful of chopped parsley

*1 chilli (or 10 depending on taste) – chopped

*1 stick celery (optional) – chopped

*1 carrot (optional) – diced small

*A shot of brandy

*A good glug of white wine

*3 tomatoes – grated (cut tom in half horizontally, grate on coarse grater)

*150g green beans (optional) – sliced thin and on angle so they look nice

*200g rice – good quality paella rice. Get into using La Bomba type, it absorbs more liquid whilst still holding its form and bite

*Hot water or, infinitely preferably, stock (4 or 5 times the volume of the rice)

Method:

Photography by Annie Peel

Photography by Annie Peel

Pour a bit too much olive oil into a pan big enough to hold everything and gently heat. Pull the heads off the prawns and add them, the saffron, garlic, pepper, parsley, thyme, chilli, celery and carrot. Sweat until it’s all nice and soft.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they have dried out. Add the monkfish and turn it over in the sofrito. Add the rice and coat in the sofrito.

Turn up the temperature, add and then burn off the brandy. Repeat with the wine (which may not ignite). Pour in the hot liquid and bring to the boil as quickly as you can.

Boil the crap out of it, making sure it always has enough liquid in it – it is a soup after all. After about 8 -10 minutes when the rice starts to soften add the prawn bodies and green beans. The finished product should be soupy and the rice ever so slightly over cooked. Eat it with a proper allioli.

For all of the above blurb, my version was lacking in the backing and there is no question that it would have benefited from a hefty stock. So there you have it.

* if you toast this and then pulverise it, it will penetrate deeper

Photography by Annie Peel

Photography by Annie Peel