Suquet de Peix is a Catalan fish soup or stew, popular in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as Cataluña. The word suquet comes from the verb suquejar to release or secrete juices and peix is Catalan for fish – so this can be interpreted as the fish releasing flavour into the soup. The recipe is comprised of a sofregit (slow cooked onions, tomato and garlic), potatoes, fish and a picada (a thickener). It may sound complicated, but in reality it’s quite simple.
Some say the dish was created in Empordà and others Tarragona, but since there’s no fixed recipe (that I can find) and as it’s a fisherman’s dish, it probably belongs to all those regions (which were once part of the Kingdom of Aragon). As with all these types of recipe, the fishermen would cook on the boat, in some kind of cauldron, using the unpopular fish or fish parts that they couldn’t sell. A typical recipe might contain escórpora (rascasse or scorpionfish), escarcho (gurnard), lubina (sea bass), dorada (sea bream) or rape (monkfish) – so the fish part could change from day to day.
I have no doubt that suquet de peix is a direct descendant of an Ancient Greek fisherman’s dish, which consisted of fish and saffron, cooked in a large metal pot over a fire. The Greeks colonised Empordà in the 6th Century BC and the Phoenicians probably founded Tarragona at around the same time. The Greeks and Phoenicians were trade partners during the Golden Age of Athens. Obviously the addition of potatoes, tomatoes and pimentón came much later, after Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.
The price of fish has risen considerably over the last 20 years and monkfish (in particular) has become quite expensive – a far cry from the days when it’s ugly face put customers off. In the Boqueria, monkfish is still displayed head on, but in the UK one generally just sees the tail. So going with the spirit of fishermen from another age, I’ve used hake, also very popular in Spain. It’s still reasonably priced and has the firm white flesh required for a soup or stew – it won’t fall apart when cooked.
Rascasse and other Mediterranean rock fish can be hard to source here and expensive relative to availability, so I recommend making a good fish stock to beef up the fish flavour. This week the fishmonger gave me the head and bones of a large sea bass and I augmented that with the bones of a cooked sea bream from the night before. In general I make my stock based on the following recipe. Do use the heads and shells of prawns or similar crustaceans if they are available.
3 fish heads and bones
1 onion (roughly chopped)
6 cloves garlic
2 carrots (quartered)
2 sticks celery (quartered)
a large tomato (quartered)
2 bay leaves
a teaspoon of fennel seeds
a few sprigs thyme
a handful of fresh parsley
a level teaspoon black peppercorns
sea salt (to taste)
a glass of white wine
2 pints water
extra virgin olive oil
Brown the fish, pour on the wine, add the vegetables, herbs and water. Bring to a simmer skim off any foam and cook gently for 30 minutes. Allow to cool and strain.
Suquet de Peix:
3 hake steaks
6 large raw prawns
1 large onion (chopped)
500g potatoes, (peeled and sliced thick)
3 large tomatoes (grated)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 1/2 – 2 pints home made fish stock
a glass of dry white wine
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a pinch of saffron
a dessertspoon plain flour
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
a teaspoon of fresh parsley (chopped) for decoration
Salt the hake 30 minutes to an hour before cooking – this firms up the flesh.
Start by cooking the sofregit – slowly cook the onions until they become soft and sticky.
Grate 3 tomatoes (cut them in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin) into the onions.
Stir in the garlic,
followed by a teaspoon of pimentón de la Vera dulce (the mild one).
Arrange the potatoes on top of the sofregit.
Pour on the wine and 1 1/2 pints of fish stock (to cover), then cook the potatoes for 15 – 20 minutes, until tender.
Dust the hake with seasoned flour and add it to the suquet – cook for 8 – 10 minutes – the beauty of using a firm fleshed fish is that timing is not too critical.
Turn the hake steaks over to cook all the way through.
At this point add the raw prawns and saffron (grind a large pinch of saffron with a mortar and pestle and pour on a small amount of boiling water – this helps in diffusing the saffron throughout the suquet).
When the prawns change colour, the suquet is ready for the picada.
10 toasted almonds
2 large cloves garlic (chopped)
a dessertspoon parsley (chopped)
a slice of fried sourdough bread
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (if necessary, substitute balsamic or red wine vinegar)
3 dessertspoons cooking liquid
Prepare the picada in advance. Toast some almonds in a frying pan. Follow this by frying a slice of stale sourdough bread – toasting it is also acceptable.
Grind the almonds, garlic, fried bread, and parsley with a mortar and pestle and then add the sherry vinegar. When the fish is ready, mix in 3 dessertspoons of the cooking liquid.
Stir the picada into the suquet to thicken and enhance the flavour.
Sprinkle on chopped parsley to garnish.
Serve with home made allioli and pan con tomate. The hake was delicate and the broth tasted sublime. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Benufet Garnatxa Blanca (from Herència Altes) with the suquet de peix.
Thank you MD, sounds terrific – must try this!
Thanks Jake – you won’t be disappointed!
Mad – what a find on my Saturday morning ! I had never even heard of the soup ! Am laughing that the only word I can more or less recognize is ‘spfregit’ which must equal ‘soffrito’ ? I think you have given me a really good new fish stock recipe and I like the picada. The soup sounds oh so good – it will just be a matter of getting stuff from the fish markets ! (What – no anchovy paste – :_ ?) And thank you for both the language and history lessons . . . fun, when there are no exams after !
Thanks Eha – yes sofregit is sofrito and no anchovy paste needed! I hope you enjoy it – do use any firm fleshed white fish!
Like most of yours, Mad, it’s fun for me to read & fantasize I’m tasting it in these days & times. So thank you for sharing it. I’ll forward it to friends near the sea who might just love to prepare it.
Thanks Judith – I do hope you get to taste it for real, or reinvent it with catfish and crawdads!
My friends wrote back that it was great fun to read & looked beyond divine but that right now in Boston its too hot to cook it or eat it. Later on………. And yes it would still be delicious with catfish & crawdads. We can get SC shrimp here.
Thanks for passing it on! Those shrimp would be delicious – any crustaceans or firm white fish would be good, it’s a mix and match dish.
Thanks very much!
A fun and educational read, not to mention one fine looking bowl of fish soup. Fish soup is a favorite of mine and I tried a number of different fish soups from around the work, but not this one. I’ll be saving this for a proper preparation once I can get to our fishmonger.
Mad, we can’t have nuts, so do you think the picada could be made with roasted pinenuts or pumpkin seeds?
Thanks Ron – I think pinenuts would be perfect, they are used for picadas in some regions.
This does sound like a very flavorful fish soup with all the tasty additions. I’ve only made my own fish stock from heads once and I asked if the fish monger would please remove the eyeballs for me as I read they can interfere with the taste of the stock. That was one thing I din’t want to do myself. 😳
Thanks Karen – I have seen that myself, but it doesn’t seem to bother the French when they make bouillabaisse. Removing the gills is a very good idea, aside from the digestive system, they contain the bits that go off quickly.