Fish soup, of all my father’s favorite dishes, was his favorite

I have many memories of my father, and we are sitting at the table in good health. Or well, sit. My father also stood up sometimes. Sometimes, when we had a hot lunch on a Sunday afternoon, and when my mother had cooked extra delicious food, he would climb onto the seat and clap.

If I were to write here, truthfully, that my mother taught me to cook, it would be correct to mention that my father taught me to eat. Literally maybe, I have no idea which of my parents gave me my first bites of solid food. But what I will say is this: my father taught me to enjoy food. He did as you should teach children, by living for them. Food is important, we were spoon fed. Eating together is important. And as I heard him say countless times while opening a bottle: “A life without parties is like a long road without stops.”

It’s been almost a year since we last sat at the table like this. A Sunday lunch in old formation; my father, mother, brother, sister and me. No supporters, no (grand)children, just ‘our little family’ as my sister likes to call it. Using the self-timer, we took a picture that I don’t even have to look at to know what’s in it: four people, somewhat transparent but bravely smiling into the camera and at the head of my father, frail and thin in his striped pyjamas. He would die five days later, but the fish soup my brother had brought from France still tasted good.

Fish soup. Of all my father’s favorite dishes, this was perhaps his favorite. It was therefore also the dish I preferred to make for him for the last thirty years. Simple, quickly put together soups for Saturdays when he came to work and more elaborate soups for Sundays and holidays. There was once a fish soup that failed because, against my better judgment, I had been convinced by the fishmonger that you can make excellent stock from a salmon head. Thinking of the watery smell still makes me shudder, but my father, the child of war, boasted gratefully once more.

Without a doubt, the most memorable fish soup was caldeirada de peixe, which he and I once prepared together in Portugal. We had been to the market in the morning to do some shopping. In the afternoon we started the preparations while sitting in the sun at the garden table. Potatoes were peeled. Chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs. Mullen beheaded and boned. And then there was the majestic ray-wing with its shiny polka-dotted skin. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the shine off; it was so smooth that it eluded us again and again. Until my father, a man who always knew a solution to everything, found a pair of pliers in the shed. “So pecker boss,” Jack Vreugdenhil laughed at the unwilling fish limb. “Just see how you can escape.”

One last reminder. Christmas 2015. After a year of grieving the loss of my marriage, I invited my entire family over for lunch. No more sips, I could feed a dinner on my own. Because a life without parties and so on. To be honest, I don’t remember what was on the table that afternoon, but I do remember my dad climbing onto his chair afterwards to a round of cheering applause.

Caldeira de peixe

Officially, a Portuguese caldeirada de peixe is a fish stew and not a fish soup. But if you get enough of the delicious stew on your plate, it automatically turns into a soup. The preparation of this old fish dish is extremely simple. That’s because the recipe has no steps; no broth must be strained and nothing must be sautéed. It’s simply a matter of piling the ingredients on top of each other and letting it simmer.

For this type of dish, it’s best to just go to the fishmonger and see what’s good there. Much can and should be done in a caldeirada, from sea bass and monkfish to rays, king eels and even sardines. The clams can also be shrimp or squid. For the soup in the picture, I used a small kilo of hake, which I had cut into slices. In addition, a pound of red mullets went in. They give a fantastic taste. Mine were very small, so I left them whole, because if you try to fillet fish that small, you have nothing left. I would fillet a larger mullet. The mullet contains many bones.

If you serve something before and/or after, you can eat these amounts with six people. If you’re just serving the caldeirada, or have big eaters at the table, it’s more likely to be enough for four. By all means add the baguette. Drizzle the slices with olive oil and roast them in the oven until crispy. Finally: the potatoes must be cut into very thin slices, otherwise they will not be cooked.

For 4 – 6 people

20 strands of saffron;
100 ml olive oil;
1.25 – 1.5 kilos of fish (dirty weight, see above);
400 g waxy potatoes, very thinly sliced;
750 g of sliced ​​tomatoes;
3 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced;
3 medium onions, thinly sliced;
1 chili pepper, thinly sliced;
200 ml dry white wine;
a handful of cilantro;
a handful of parsley;
2 bay leaves;
300 g mussels

Week saffron threads in a tablespoon of water. Pour 50ml of olive oil into an earthenware bowl or heavy pan and start building layers. First a layer of onion, then tomato, potato and fish.

Sprinkle a few times with salt and pepper – of course not too much, just a little bit at a time – and also sprinkle garlic, chili pepper and herbs between the layers. Finish with a layer of tomato.

collection the rest of the olive oil together with the white wine and the saffron water and pour this into the pan. Top up with water until everything is just submerged. (I used 350 ml of water.)

Set Put the bowl or pan on the fire, put the lid on and let it all boil. Then turn the heat to low, cover on an angle and let the caldeirada simmer until the potatoes are tender. This may take 45 minutes, but start checking after 30 minutes. Let the mussels cook for the last 10 minutes.

Leave a Comment