COASTAL MEXICO'S FAMOUS FISH SOUP — by Tom Gatch
Virtually every nation on the planet bordering the sea seems to have its own version of a soup, stew or chowder that is based upon its local seafood.
In southern France, it is the famous bouillabaisse, New England is renowned for its creamy clam chowder and San Francisco’s Italian community introduced us to the west coast classic, cioppino.
The Baja California peninsula is almost completely surrounded by ocean waters, and for centuries, its coastal residents have also relied upon the sea for nourishment. Depending upon the prevailing tides, some of the most accessible and delectable bounty is available to be harvested within only a few hundred yards of the surf zone.
Numerous species of fish, clams, mussels, octopus, crabs, mollusks, abalone and other Gastropods have all played an important role in sustaining life along the primitive volcanic coastline of this rugged peninsula. And, as might be expected, over time many tasty recipes have been developed that artfully highlight the gourmet qualities of these wonderful foods, in addition to offering the obvious high protein nutritional benefits that they provide.
One of the most basic of these is Sopa Siete Mares, or Seven Seas Soup, and there are probably as many variations in its make up as there are poblados in both Baja Norte and Baja Sur combined. While this is only one of those recipes, it is absolutely delicious! Please feel free to adjust ingredients and seasonings to suit your personal taste …everyone else does!
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
8 medium-large dried guajillo chiles, seeded and stemmed
½ Tbsp. dried whole Mexican oregano
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Large pinch of freshly ground cumin seeds
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
½ cup water
Over medium heat, roast the garlic using a heavy skillet, constantly turning until it is soft and lightly browned. Let the cloves cool, and then peel. Toast the chiles 1 or 2 at a time using the same skillet, flattening them for a few seconds on each side with a spatula. Cover the toasted chiles with boiling water and steep for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the chiles thoroughly and add them together in a food processor along with the crushed cumin seeds, black pepper, roasted garlic and ½ cup of water. Blend the mixture into a smooth puree, adding more water if necessary. Strain through a medium mesh colander. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot and add the puree once it has begun to sizzle. Set aside.
4 quarts fish or shellfish broth
1 large bunch of fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tbsp. brown or raw sugar
14 large (18 medium) shrimp, heads on
5 small potatoes, boiled and diced
2 cups diced chayote squash (zucchini can also be substituted)
4 medium onions, finely minced
1 kilo of fresh, well-scrubbed clams, mussels or a combination of both
1 kilo of boneless, skinless white fish fillet such as rock cod, sea bass or halibut
Combine ingredients and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes before adding the strained base mixture. Continue to cook over medium heat for 45 minutes while stirring occasionally. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Add the potatoes to the hot broth. Simmer uncovered until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for 3 minutes. Add the mussels or clams and simmer until the shellfish open, then add the fish cubes before stirring in the shrimp. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Garnish with chopped white onions, minced cilantro and lime wedges. Enjoy with fresh, warm tortillas.