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Mexican style seafood soup

This has been a very recurring staple in our household lately, one of my very favourite recipes for both dinner parties and just us at home.  It’s really fast and easy and cheap and healthy for weeknight dinners, but also good enough that it’s been our dinner party go-to recipe lately too. It’s easy to glam it up a bit and serve with crusty sourdough to make it special.

It’s becoming harder and harder to catch, or buy, sustainable seafood these days.  Luckily, squid is normally listed as sustainable in most guides.  Squid breed fast and die young and their natural predators are being fished out.  Squid are a really healthy seafood, a good source of omega 3 and, like many seafood, of a big range of minerals like copper, selenium, zinc and magnesium.  And it’s cheap.  My local supermarket has 500 gm packs of frozen, cleaned squid rings for $6.

The other main ingredient in this soup is Southern Blue Whiting, also listed as sustainable and also available frozen and very cheap.  Fresh sand whiting is so gorgeous, it would be criminal to do anything more to it than dust with flour and fry. Southern Blue Whiting, though, isn’t sand whiting, isn’t even really a whiting, and especially if it is frozen, it isn’t a good frying fish.  So it is quite nice to find a way to turn it into something gourmet.

The Recipe:

It’s a bit of a “make it up as you go” recipe because lots of substitutions are possible.  I tend to make a big pot even just for the two of us, and we take it for lunch or eat it for a few days in a row.

Step One: The Sofrito.

  • In a big soup pot, add a swig of olive oil and saute a chopped onion and several cloves of garlic till they start to soften.
  • Add a couple of chilis finely diced, more or less depending on how hot your chilis are and how spicy you like things.
  • Add a good cupful of chopped tomatoes.

Step Two: The Vegetables

Add three or four cupfuls of roughly chopped vegetables.  You want

  • at least one starchy vegetable like potato, sweet potato, or shelled beans
  • at least one leafy green like silver beet or amaranth or baby spinach, but steer clear of strong cabbage flavours.
  • a few of vegetables like capsicum, green beans, snow peas, celery, carrots, zucchini, squash.  Again, steer clear of broccoli or things in that family.

Saute a little bit, then add water to cover.

Step Three: The Aromatics

When you add the water, add kaffir lime leaves.  I like four or five of them, but adjust according to your taste.  Leave them whole and remove (if you can!) before serving, or just warn people to leave them.  If you don’t have kaffir lime leaves, just double up on the lemon or lime at the end.

Simmer the soup for fifteen minutes or so.

Then add another good half cup of chopped herbs.  I like lemon or lime basil and Vietnamese mint best, but you could swerve towards cilantro or coriander, or Thai basil, or towards dill or even fennel.

Step Four: The Fish and Fish Sauce

Add 500 grams of squid rings and (optionally) whatever you want in other seafood.  For everyday eating, I add about 300 grams of chopped whiting, skin off.  To glam it up you can also add baby prawns or clams.  You can even add them frozen if you like.

Bring back to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the fish is cooked through.

Now taste and add fish sauce and lemon or lime juice to taste.  You can add quite a lot without it being too much.

Serve with a good sourdough.

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Australian Conservation Society conducted a sustainable seafood assessment project over the 2009-10 summer.  One of the five studies was the assessment of squid from the Hawkesbury River. My local river is the Richmond, not too much further north and fished in the same way, so I was really happy to see that squid was listed as sustainable.

In fact most sources list squid as sustainable – they breed fast, die young, and may even be over-filling their niche, sadly because their predators are being fished to extinction.  They’re a good source of omega 3, better even than canned tuna and a lot more sustainable.

The Recipe:

This recipe used 8 medium-smallish whole squid – 500 grams all up with their heads and tentacles on. This amount fed four of us for a dinner party, with a couple of side salads. It would also make a fine entreè for eight.  Beware of using squid that are too small as they are hard to stuff without tearing.

First you need to clean and process the squid.  This is easier than it sounds in instructions!

You will find that if you pull the tentacles firmly, the head and tentacles will separate from the tube.

To process the head bit, cut below the eyes and discard the head and the guts.  Push the beak out from between the tentacles and discard it.  Put the tentacles aside for mincing.

To process the tube bit, being careful not to make holes in it, feel for and remove the quill (the see-through plastic-like feather inside the tube). Wash inside well to remove any remaining gut.

Stuffing:

Mince the tentacles in a food processor or by chopping finely.

Mix with

  • one-third of a cup uncooked rice
  • one onion finely diced
  • lots of garlic
  • a chili, finely diced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs – I used oregano and lemon thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • a finger lime squeezed out, or a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice

Fill the tubes with the stuffing.  Don’t overfill (the rice will expand in cooking), and close the tops with a skewer.

Sauce:

Saute a finely diced onion in a little olive oil.

Ad lots of finely chopped garlic, then:

  • a jar of tomato passata
  • 1 cup of water
  • a good swig of white wine if you have it
  • juice of ½ a lemon

Cook the sauce down for a few minutes to soften the tomatoes.

Put a little olive oil in the bottom of a heavy pot with a  lid and arrange the filled tubes in it.  Pour over the sauce.  Bake, covered for 1 ½ hrs, or simmer over a very low heat on the stovetop, watching at the end that it doesn’t boil dry. Add a little more water, or take the lid off to allow it to reduce, so that the sauce is nice and thick.

Slice the squid into decorative slices and serve on a bed of the sauce.

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