This recipe is from my friend Nico’s French cook, Madame LeFavre. Quite painstaking, I would say, but et voila, you get this achingly sophisticated and authentic French soup.
Boil together salmon bones or prawn skins (the more the better) in a pot of water, together with the peel of one large orange, peppercorns and a bay leaf.
In addition, I added 1 carrot and half an onion (for sweetness and heartiness), though Madame sniffed haughtily when I told her what I did.
Boil for a few hours, until you have a rich broth. Aim to end up with about 10 cupfuls of broth.
To make the base, sweat 1 finely chopped onion, one leek and 1 fennel bulb in olive oil. Add 8 cloves of garlic. Cook until softened, then add 6 chopped tomatoes.
The herbs Madame uses are fresh thyme, fresh marjoram and saffron. I added some basil leaves. Add a large pinch of cayenne pepper. Season generously with freshly ground pepper and coarse salt. Add 1/2tsp brown sugar.
When everything is mushy, add 2 generous glasses of full-bodied white wine. This is important, because it is the wine that gives the base its flavour. Don’t worry about the alcoholic content (which gets burned off) – French kids eat wine in food and they seem to do fine.
Simmer on very low heat for about 1-2 hours.
Strain both the salmon broth and the base into a saucepan (combine both). You should have a thickish soup (as per main photo). If you like a thicker soup, add some of the mushy veggies that you used to make the base.
Into that soup, add mussels, clams, fish, anything you wish. Boil the seafood until cooked. Season to taste.
(I added deep fried salmon bits because I like crunchy fried salmon).
Serve piping hot with French baguette (of course). It may sound like a lot of hassle compared to my Englishwoman’s version, but I promise you, it’s worth it.
I had the leftovers the following day, and it tasted even better.
The store cupboard/freezer version:
I made this during the COVID-19 lockdown, and I didn’t have white fish, prawns or clams: I just had frozen salmon in the freezer. I didn’t even have fresh tomatoes and used canned tomatoes. I added some frozen peas (!!!) and spring onions. But it still tasted good, with a poached egg on top for variation!