5 MAGAZINE | Fabulous Fricot — July-August 2019

The fish market at Rialto bridge in Venice

Aromatic! Enigmatic! Operatic!

Europe’s Fish Soups and Fish Stews

Who would have thought that a once abandoned fish soup would become a modern phenomena, now served in every pub and restaurant in Ireland?

We recommend the chowder the Kirwans serve in their fresh fish shop at Clogherhead pier in county Louth, the fabulous chowder at O’Dowds in Roundstone, county Galway and the unique chowder at Aherne’s in Youghal, county Cork, one of the first pub-restaurants to serve this amazing dish.

The chowder story itself is also amazing.

Any one of these ten fish soups and stews could be number one. They are definitely number one in their own countries and in some places, the fish stew of Croatia for example, regarded as the most popular traditional dish in the country.

The fish soup of Bergen is a meal in itself. Characterised by its use of sustainable white fish, a rich fish stock and the inclusion of the region’s famous fish balls, it is arguably one of the most interesting of fish soups.

For an aromatic soup the ubiquitous fish soup of the Anatolian coast is incomparable until you discover the fish soup of Malta. For an enigmatic soup go to Lisbon for the prawn soup or to Helsinki for the salmon soup or to Reykjavík for the hake soup. For an operatic fish stew go to Barcelona where the zarzuela is irresistible or to the Flanders coast for the waterzooi, an irrepressible concoctions.

We have selected ten of our favourites. It wasn’t an easy task. Traditional fish soups and fish stews all have a common denominator — they are based on fresh, local ingredients, and thousands of years of history, of people, place and produce, knowledge passed down, secrets retained.

This has produced the soup of the Aegean – a rich mixture of fish, vegetables and rice, the soup of the Côte d’Azur – enriched with the garlic-olive oil sauce known as aïoli, the soup of Normandy – a cornucopia of fish with croûtons, herbs and spices, the soup, the freshwater soup of the Doubs and Verdun rivers, the eel soups of Germany and the Netherlands, the soup of the rough and ragged Scottish coast – a haddock and potato combination that compares with the white fish and potato soup of the Norwegian coast.

IRISH Chowders
various fish

TWO CROATIAN Ribarski Brodet grouper, mussels, prawns, squid

THREE NORWEGIAN Bergensk Fisksuppe cod / coley, halibut, monkfish, salmon, fish stock, fish balls

FOUR CATALONIAN Zarzuela white fish, shellfish, lobster

FIVE TURKISH Balik Çorbasi grouper / gurnard / red mullet

SIX FINNISH Lohikeitto salmon, stock from salmon bones

SEVEN FLEMISH Waterzooi black sole, cod, hake, lobster, mussels, plaice, prawns, whiting

EIGHT ICELANDIC Lúdusúpa hake / halibut

NINE PORTUGUESE Sopa de Camarão prawn

TEN MALTESE Aljotta grouper / rock fish / flounder / halibut / red snapper, fish stock

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Chowders IRELAND
fish and vegetable soups

Chowder Champions of the World

Irish chowder is a personal preference, so much that home cooks and restaurant and pub chefs contest the issue. Once a simple traditional soup made with assorted fish flavoured with wild plants, the Irish version lost its way for several centuries until it was slowly revived in the 1970s with American chowder as the inspiration.

This is a selection of chowder recipes from various sources. Bear one thing in mind when you make your own chowder, the secret is fish as fresh as it comes.

Irish Pub Chowder — The Original

Irish seafood chowder was reinvented as a pub food, usually served as a main portion with wheaten soda bread. The first chowders were influenced by the Guinness school for pub cooks and featured the usual suspects — shellfish, white fish, smoked fish and salmon. Cream was a constant in most recipes, potatoes and vegetables were not! The base could be a white sauce, it could also be flour and water. The stock was made from fish but it could also be bottled clam juice.

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Fish Cookery | Fish Book

Jane Grigson’s Fish Cookery morphed into Jane Grigson’s Fish Book when her daughter Sophie updated the original edition and included material the food journalist had revised for that purpose. Between the original publication as Fish Cookery in 1973 and the revised publication as Fish Book in 1993 the book became a legend and nothing that has followed has tarnished that reputation. The 1993 edition enhanced it. Just like the proverb ‘fish as fresh as it gets’ this is a fish book as ‘good as it gets’. With apologies to all the French, Spanish and Turkish authors of complete fish books, this is arguably the best fish book on the market.

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Fish Cakes

The fish cakes of Denmark and Norway are made with a blended mixture of fish fillets from cod, haddock, pollock, saithe or salmon with cream or milk, potato starch and a good quantity of seasonings including chives or onions and are fried in butter to produce a soft and succulent creation.

The fish cakes of England and Ireland tend to be made with hake or haddock and occasionally are made with a combination of white fish, smoked fish and oily fish, contain potatoes and differ in method. Both are breadcrumbed.

The fish cakes of the Baltic and North Sea countries reflect that endless love affair with spices and their condiments, the Dutch with coriander and harissa, the Latvians with caraway and pepper.

Each tradition has the same knowledge. Good fishcakes need to be heavily seasoned.

Danish Fish Cakes

Dutch Fish Cakes

Latvian Fish Cakes

Norwegian Fish Cakes


anchovy, olive, onion flan / flatbread

There is an argument that this anchovy-olive-olive oil-onion topped flatbread and flan predates the pizza of Naples. Named after the pissala (pissalat) flavouring made with puréed anchovies mixed with olive oil and ground bay, clove, pepper and thyme, the pissaladière is truly unique, with a flavour to die for, which is why it has remained popular among those who desire such salty tastes.

As for the argument, it is not relevant. Despite the similar sounding titles (pissaladiére and pizza) there is no familiarity. They evolved separately.

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Rye Bread

Roggenbrot / Pains de Seigle sourdough rye bread

They’ve been eating rye bread in the Alps for so long that the preparation and baking of this round, flat-bottomed, gray-brown, cracked bark loaf is now a protected precise science. A daily foodstuff in Valais villages since the bronze age when celtic tribes populated the valleys, it is the climate, the extremes of temperatures between summer and winter, and the light dry soil that allow good cultivation of rye in the valley. Once baked in communal ovens in each village, today the professional baker uses open hearth furnaces to produce the same effect, a moist bread with a compact pore structure and a slightly sour taste, the result of the use of sourdough in the preparation.

Combining no less than 90% rye and no more than 10% wheat, the ingredients are made up with water, salt, yeast and the poolish, a mix of rye and water fermented for at least 24 hours, 12 in the bakery and 12 in the fridge. Dough pieces of 250 grams, 500 grams and one kilo are shaped into  pointed cone shapes and dipped in flour, and allowed to rest until their volume has doubled and cracks have appeared.

The recommended sourdough for roggenbrot is made with one part rye flour to two parts water and fresh yeast between 1% and 1.5% of the amount of water. Some bakers use 10%. A 1:1 rye-water ratio is also used, without the addition of yeast. Some bakers add 10% from an existing sourdough as a starter. These are the secrets of the rye bread maker.

This is the recipe for the rye bread made in the Valais / Wallis (Valley) canton of Switzerland, where this dark bread has been in its ascendency since the 1970s, more than sixty bakeries now working daily with locally grown grain.Valais rye bread is cut into thin slices and eaten with air-dried meat and full-fat cheese.

  • 1.35 kg rye flour
  • 1 litre water
  • 100 g rye sourdough
  • 50 g yeast
  • 35 g rock salt

Dissolve yeast in a little of the water, warmed, add to the rye flour with remaining water, salt and sourdough. Mix for five minutes, knead for ten minutes. Desired dough temperature is 25°C. Leave to ferment for an hour, degas, leave for a further hour and longer if the dough has not risen sufficiently. Divide into four 600 g pieces and shape into rounds. Place on greaseproof paper on a baking tray, flatten each one slightly, dust with rye flour and leave to rise for 30 minutes. The surface of the dough should be cracked slightly. Preheat oven to 230°C. Spray oven with water. Bake for an hour, until the surface is cracked and crispy. 


Five Dishes of VENICE

Risotto alla Buranella / Risotto di Gò (ghiozzo di laguna) creamy rice in fish stock

A traditional speciality of Burano in the Venetian archipelago, made with carnaroli or vialone nano rice and a fish stock made with ghiozzi, the small goby fish of the lagoon, this is impossible to replicate unless you live in Venice. A fish stock made from fresh anchovies or sardines or sprats is a respectable substitute. It will not replicate the ‘piacevole sapore e gran carattere’ (pleasant taste and great character) of the goby. Da Primo, Osteria Al Fureghin, Raspo De Ua, Ristorante Da Forner, Trattoria Al Gatto Nero and Trattoria da Romano keep this delicious risotto on their menus, while Osteria Al Museo add baccalà to their version. 

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Fegato di Vitello alla Veneziano
Venetian veal liver in onion sauce

Now associated with the cuisine of Venice, and the surrounding region, this veal dishes is popular throughout the Alpine countries. Thought to have been brought back from northern Europe by the Romans, a plausible scenario.

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Baccalà Mantecato
whipped dried cod

In 2001 a calendar event of significance was noted when an assortment of Venetian artists, historians, restauranteurs, writers and baccalà lovers launched the Dogale Confraternita del Baccalà Mantecato.

Their aim was the dissemination of the traditional recipe – cod, garlic and olive oil – because baccalà mantecato is not just food. ‘It is history, religion, adventure, secrets handed down from cook to cook, from mother to daughter: the pleasure of the palate, mind, heart.’

Stockfish is imported into northern and southern Italy, to Calabria, Campania, Liguria, Sicily and Veneto, taking two-thirds of the Norwegian production.

In northern Italy they like their stockfish lean and thin, in southern Italy they prefer it fat and thick but in Venice they demand the best and it is graded as such, imported by fish merchants from the Polesine, south of the lagoon city.

In 2014 packets of stockfish cost between €23 and €40 a kilo in the shops and supermarkets. Baccalà is stick, mantecato is beaten, thus beaten stick fish. In 2019 stockfish cost

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Calamari Ripieni in Brodo di Pesce
stuffed squid in fish broth

One of the oldest recipes from the Adriatic, and not exclusively associated with Italy, never mind Venice. Think of it as a dish that predates the invasion of American foods, vis beans, chillies, corn and tomatoes, filled with the produce from field and forest.

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Mele al forno con Crema Pasticcera
baked apples with custard

Italian apple growers have specialised in the popular varieties for many years now, producing Braeburn, Elstar, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Idared, Jonagold, Morgenduft, Red Delicious, Stayman Winesap, Pinova and Topaz. This has resulted in the proliferation of traditional apple desserts, among them baked apples with custard.

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The Eel Story

Eels of Lough Neagh, Ireland

Father Oliver Kennedy was always going to be a tough act to follow. For fifty years he devoted his life to maintaining a centuries old tradition with the eels of Lough Neagh.

Pat Close doesn’t get sleepless nights worrying about the emerging problems that might threaten the eels of Lough Neagh – like disappearing eels, ageing fishers and bureaucratic conservationists.

He is a positive man and, like Father Kennedy who maintained the centuries old tradition before him for fifty years, he embraces the future with a purpose. Just like the eels, no longer a mystery, always a delicacy, especially in London where they go to make jellied eels and in Amsterdam where they go to make smoked eels.

In 2011 the Lough Neagh eel received Protected Geographical Indication status. This is an official stamp that recognises a food product’s unique place in the lives of people and place.

Every year between May and October, DHL ship boxes of live eels packed in ice from Belfast International Airport to Heathrow and Schipol, sent by the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society.

It’s mid-morning and the fish shop on West-Kruiskade in the centre of Rotterdam is selling out of smoked eels. The demand these days always seems to exceed the supply. Lovers of this treat are worried.

Pat Close insists they have nothing to worry about. He sends the same message out to those who have been predicting the end of the Lough Neagh eel fishery.

‘We are in a unique situation in that we are in control. We have a commercial operation to run and the goal is to support our members and the sustainability of the fishery.’

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Breakfasts of Europe

Volume 2, issue number 4, 2019

© Small World Publishing