Restaurants have go-to recipes — ones the cook enjoys making and the guests order over and over again. At home, I turn to one-pot soups, stews and slow-cooker meals for the same reasons.
I like to prepare a couple of fish soup bases to make dinner parties easier. When the guests arrive, I can simply reheat the base, add some fresh fish and serve with great bread and a tossed salad.
When selecting fish for soup, look for mild-tasting, non-oily fish, such as cod, tilapia and halibut. Always pay attention to how the fish was sourced; a good fish market will be able to tell you about its provenance. Shellfish makes great soup, so I stock a bag or two of frozen raw shrimp in the freezer for quick additions.
Traditional recipes instruct the cook to boil the fish with its bones until the stock is flavorful and the fish falls into fine shreds. Then there are straining, pureeing and more simmering. I save time by using skinless fish fillets and prepared seafood stock — either from the freezer case at the local fish market or from the grocery store shelves.
Most soups start with sautéed vegetables to build flavor. For the nicoise-style soup, fresh fennel, leek and crisp, white onions are sauteed in good French olive oil. Then, canned tomato puree and a bit of dry vermouth are added along with the fish stock. Pinches of ground saffron, or more readily available saffron threads, add a musty undertone typical of the classic versions in France.
To finish the soup, I make a fast blender-friendly version of rouille. Some of the garlicky puree is used to season the tomato base before the fish is added. The rest is served at the table.
“Chowder” just might be one of the best food words ever. My favorite is always creamy and studded with bacon. Sweet corn doesn’t hurt. This version calls for fresh salmon and bay scallops. I add some lump crab when I want to impress. Sharp, tangy, Louisiana-style red-pepper hot sauce adds kick.
The creamy soup base is so good, you could skip the fish and turn it into vegetable chowder simply by doubling the corn and adding some roasted diced red and poblano peppers. For a speedy weeknight chowder, I use canned salmon in place of fresh fish.