julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Fish Heads, Fish Heads, Roly Poly Fish Heads

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“If only I’d made the soup with a dozen different kinds of strange-o fishies.” – Julie Powell 

Anybody here familiar with the Dr. Demento song of today’s title? My dad used to sing this to me when I was a kid – weird but true. Anyway, it came to mind as I was cooking last night’s dinner, a recipe that was truly made only out of necessity: Soupe de Poisson (strained fish soup).

To be honest, the idea of a fish soup kind of grosses me out – especially upon realizing it calls for about 3 pounds of fish stock (made from fish heads, tails, bones and trimmings). But Julia, God love her, gave me an out. She said I could use clam juice instead, so you can bet that’s what I did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My gramma taught me the paper towel trick.

I had some leftover fish filets in my freezer, so I figured this would be a good way to use them up. I began by cooking some minced onions and leeks in a bit of olive oil in a big soup pot on the stove. Correction: I began by burning the dickens out of my eyeballs with the fumes of mincing said onions and leeks – holy moly, those were some potent onions!! My grandmother taught me a trick many years ago about putting a folded piece of paper towel between your lips and breathing through your mouth while chopping onions, but this helpful hint was no match against those monsters. Anyone else have a trick to avoid such agony? There’s no crying in cooking!!

I digress.

So the onions and leeks are sizzling in the pot, and I chop some tomatoes and mash some garlic to throw in as well. As things are heating up, I add about 1 1/4 quarts of water, and lots of seasoning (bay leaf, parsley, thyme, fennel, and pepper), as well as the chopped fish leftovers and a can of clam juice. Now, the fish at this point had been frozen, thawed, frozen, and thawed again, so it probably wasn’t quite as fresh as the morning dew. But considering this dish called for fish heads, I didn’t worry too much about it. Besides, it was for flavoring more than anything.

Straining the soup

This mixture boiled on the stove for about 40 minutes, and when the timer sounded, I strained everything through a colander into a saucepan, pressing the contents of the colander with a wooden spoon to get all of the flavorful juices of the ingredients. I gotta tell you, the stuff left behind in that colander made me glad it was just for flavor – it didn’t look too appetizing.

The next step was to break up about 1/3 cup of spaghetti noodles into 2″ pieces and toss them into the saucepan, then heat everything together for another ten minutes or so until the pasta was cooked. I thought this was kind of weird, but did as I was told. Because when Julia Child tells you to do something, you do it.

When the timer went off telling me the soup was done, I had a kitten asleep on my lap, so I waited a couple more minutes before finally moving her. And it’s a good thing I did, because I discovered that nearly all the liquid had cooked out of the sauce pan. Argh!! So I added more water, brought everything to a boil and saved the soup – hooray! I would have been really mad if I’d burnt the dish in the last few minutes of cooking. While this soup was easy to make, it was a bit of a process.

When Ben came home, he sniffed the air, then asked flatly, “Fish soup?”  I couldn’t blame him. Neither of us was really looking forward to this meal, but tried to keep an open mind as we served it into bowls. Julia recommends topping it with shredded Swiss cheese and something called rouille (a garlic, pimiento and chili pepper sauce), but honestly it was all we could do to eat the soup as it was, so we kept it simple this time.

Soupe de Poisson

Now, granted, the person suffering from a sinus infection is probably not the person who should be taste-testing a new recipe, but hey – it is what it is. As I lifted the spoon to my lips, I could smell the combination of the tomatoes and the fish, and I admit I cringed a little. It seemed like an odd combination. I slurped a little of the broth and swallowed – and it tasted exactly like I expected it would. It was definitely fishy, but not necessarily in a bad way. Just in a strong way. And the cooked spaghetti noodles inside were kind of an odd thing. As they were the only solid item in this broth, they seemed a little out of place, although I’m glad the soup wasn’t entirely liquid. 

I’m not exactly sure what to say. I could see how someone who really likes fish would like this soup. Unfortunately, I am not that person. Are you? If so, I suggest you give this a try and see what you think. Maybe I should have used the cheese and rouille after all – it might have masked the fishiness that was a little too much for me to stand. Maybe I should have used a variety of fish for the stock – although I think it still would have turned out strong-fishy tasting. Either way, the soup was much better than the menthol-licorice Nyquil I had before bed. *wince*

Tomorrow? Back to something we know – hamburger patties with sauce! Nary a single fish head in sight. *sigh of relief*

– Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
Non, merci. Je suis plein.”

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One Response to “Fish Heads, Fish Heads, Roly Poly Fish Heads”

  1. Mom says:

    Who IS that stunningly beautiful woman in the flowered dress? xoxo!!

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