It´s a grey old Saturday in January here, with no particular plans for the day. I hear a loud “toot, toot” outside and my heart lifts. Fish Man is here. Although we live in an isolated part of the mountains, we´re not entirely cut off. In fact, food-wise we could probably survive without ever going shopping. We have our chickens and the vegetable garden of course. We have goatherds who sell us a goat for the freezer, or a lamb too come to think of it. Bread Man stops daily and leaves me a lovely crusty loaf, the grocery man comes at the weekend with all sorts of exciting things, even the man with gas cylinders stops at my door. But two or three times a week we have the excitement of Fish Man.
The downside is that we´re pretty much the last stop on his route, so he often doesn´t get to us until about 1pm. Sometimes he´s sold out of most things, but if I ask him for something specific, he saves it for me. Usually that´s Pulpo (Octopus) or Raya (Skate) which we love. The upside is that he´s usually keen to get back to Malaga, where he lives, for his own lunch, so prices come down so that he can shift the last few things, or he throws in a few goodies for free. He gets up early and heads off to Malaga fish market then sets off up the mountains to the villages around where we live.
Weekends in Spain are not about the weekend roast but about Paella, which we all know and love. In Andalucia, they just call it an Arroz, a “rice” which is just like Paella but often served with more stock. A soupy Paella, if you like. Otherwise it´s a Fideua, which is exactly the same but made with short, thick noodles, called Fideos. This morning I bought half a kilo of small prawns and eight medium sized squid. I grabbed a small packet of mussels (removed from the shell and frozen) from my freezer and a couple of small fillets of hake which were also in the freezer. Because it´s a bit of a trek to the supermarket, and of course there are things that can´t be bought our of the back of a passing van, I tend to keep my freezer pretty well stocked with things I can grab in the morning and defrost quickly.
I asked Big Man what he fancied – Paella, Fideua, Seafood Soup, Stew? A stew, it was decided, so I started to get things ready. What you need for four people with “normal” appetites, or three “greedy guts”, or two “greedy guts” with enough leftover to turn into a soup that evening with a drop more stock, is:
- About 2 cups of peeled prawns (keep those shells, we´re going to make stock)
- About 500 grams of cleaned squid cut into chunks
- A cup of mussel meat
- A medium fillet of white fish, cut into chunks
- Half a red pepper, finely diced
- A stick of celery, finely diced
- Half and medium onion, finely diced
- A third of a courgette, finely diced (optional)
- Three fat cloves of garlic, crushed
- Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
- About a litre of fish stock. Either cover the prawn shells with water, add a few bat leaves, a chunk of onion and boil for about 8 minutes or use a cube
You can use any fish or shellfish you like really, and if you don´t have a lot of fish, you can thicken the stew up with a few noodles, or serve it as a soup with plenty of stock. Otherwise you could use rice and turn it into a paella – it´s up to you!
So, you start by sweating the peppers, onion, celery, garlic and courgette. Again, if you have other vegetables you want to use, feel free. Peas or broad beans are good, but best thrown in at the end with the fish as they don´t need much cooking.
Add your tomatoes and continue cooking gently for a few minutes. I usually cook this in my favourite pan – a large, deep, non stick frying pan.
Now add your stock. It will look rather dull and unappetizing at this point, rather like watery tomato soup. Fear not. Now you´re going to boil it, but not too fiercely, for about ten minutes and reduce it by about a third. Pour yourself a glass of wine if you don´t already have one in your hand. If not, why not? If you want to serve this for guests, prepare it to this point, even the day before (but keep it in the fridge) and forget about it.
When you´re ready to eat, heat the stock to a simmer and put all your fish in. Start with the squid as it will take about 30 seconds longer than the rest. Simmer gently for about 3-4 minutes and then serve.
If you think it´s not going to be enough to go round, or you fancy something a little more “robust” add your noodles before the fish and when it is almost cooked through, add the fish. About a mug full would be good for this quantity leaving you with some soup and some thickness to the finished dish. The temperature has dropped here, and we´ve lit the fire, so we´re going with some Fideos today for a more filling meal.
If you want to make a paella (although the courgette is not very traditional, but hey, it´s your dish, you can do what you like with it), add the rice before the fish and cook for about 20 minutes. A mug and half would be good – you want it drier than the soup, but keep an eye on it and add a little boiling water if it looks like it might dry out before the rice is cooked. Add the seafood, stir, lower the heat and cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat off and then leave to “rest” for about 5 minutes.
Serve in large, deep bowls with plenty of fresh lemon to squeeze over and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Crusty bread and a salad are all that you need to go with this. Delicious. The Mediterranean in a bowl.