Southern Angola, early nineties...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fish and Potato Soup

I made Fish Head Soup yesterday. Doesn’t sound very appetising I know, but I refuse to waste food whenever it can be avoided.

Living on the coast we are lucky as fresh fish is always available. The larger ones are ideal for filleting but this always leaves the skeletons and heads, still with quite a lot of flesh on despite my skill with a filleting knife. I cannot bring myself to discard what many would consider waste so usually bag and freeze it.

Yesterday evening, none of my family seemed particularly hungry so after playing ‘Twenty Questions’, we all decided that soup accompanied by fresh bread enjoyed in front of the TV would be ideal so I dug out the mortal remains of the fish.

Usually my fish soup is very light, a subtly flavoured liquid, a suspension of tender flesh and Al Dente vegetables but this time I fancied something rather more substantial, the sort of comfort food that leaves a lingering, yet pleasant aftertaste and a warm glow of satisfaction, a meal in itself rather than just an appetizer.

Angola has pretty much shut down since the Independence Day celebrations of the 11th and I was reminded of this as I surveyed my largely denuded cache of potential ingredients. It had been a week since the last grocery shop so I was going to have to improvise.

My usually generously stocked larder yielded only half a dozen small potatoes, some onions and a few tomatoes. I knew I had coriander and gindungo, our local fiery hot pepper growing in the garden, some fresh ginger and various spices I collected the last time I went through Dubai but that was about it.

I placed the fish heads into a large pot, added enough water to half submerge them, a roughly chopped onion, a bunch of coriander stalks (saving the tender leaves for later), a couple of tomatoes, a couple of green peppers, a few cardamon pods, a hot pepper and set the lot to boil.

I diced the remaining onions and with a little oil in a heavy based pan, sweated them off until they passed through the glossy stage and started to caramelise slightly. I then added a teaspoon of Garam Masala and some very finely chopped ginger, gave it a good stir before adding a couple of cups of water and left it to simmer. I diced the remaining tomatoes bar one and the potatoes (peeled and chopped) and tossed them in as well, periodically adding a cup of water to keep the mixture loose.

After about 45 minutes, topping up with water as necessary, the fish heads and skeletons had released an unctuous mix of flavour and fish oils into my stock so I strained the liquid into a bowl and once the fish had cooled sufficiently, I picked off the surprising amount of flesh still clinging to the bones.

Using a hand held blender, I whizzed the onion/tomato/potato mixture into a smooth paste and added the fish stock, bringing it up to a gentle simmer over a low heat and seasoned to taste. I then added a finely diced tomato, finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and the recovered flesh from the fish.

Served with toasted white bread it went down a treat.