Fantastic Meals. Number 93 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time
I lied. Yep. Right there in the title is a big, fat lie. I’ve never made catfish soup, you see—I use cod. But in order to make this a “Mostly Southern” recipe, I lied and called it Catfish Soup. The actual name is simply, “Fish Soup.” There’s nothing wrong, however, if you prefer to use catfish in this recipe. It would probably taste even better than with cod. I use cod because of the health benefits of cold-water-salt-water fish, and because the fillets are boneless. I’m rather particular about using certain items when I cook for “health benefits.” For instance, I won’t prepare catfish at home, but will eat entire platefuls if I go out to eat, and the entrée is fried catfish. We have a great seafood buffet restaurant nearby, and my wife and I go once a year. I eat all the fried catfish, oysters, clams, and shrimp I can stuff down. I eat so much, I won’t want any more fried fish for a year. I’ve always found it quaint that in the South—in Alabama, anyway—we refer to catfish as “seafood.” The main dish at every “seafood” restaurant around here is fried catfish. I guess it’s similar to when we use the term “barbecue.” We don’t add the word “pork,” to it, because everyone here knows it means “barbecued pig product.” Everyone except for a few Texans, who pride themselves by being different from the rest of us Southerners by meaning “beef” when they say “barbecue.”
But I’m getting off track. Making fun of Texans is fun, but this is supposed to be about Fish Soup. I wonder, though—when a Texan says “fish soup,” does he mean “beef-tongue soup?” Oh, well. Here’s my recipe, and I must explain the reason I present it at Number 93. I’d prefer placing it much higher, closer to twenty-two, or twenty-three, but cannot. My family won’t allow it. They don’t even want Fish Soup in the top 100, but some things cannot be left undone, and this is one of them.
The two chores of raising children and cooking meals are not only tied together out of necessity, they are similar in other ways, as well. You may not consider either one a chore, of course, but I’ve never met a man or a woman who didn’t consider feeding children “properly” to be anything other than a chore. By “properly,” I mean feeding them “healthy” meals.
Sure, anyone can order pizza to be delivered, or pick up fried chicken, hamburgers, or mass-produced tacos. These meals, to use the term loosely, are not what I mean when I say “feed children properly.” Getting kids to eat pizza, burgers, or tacos is no chore at all. Nor are these foods considered healthy for our children. My fish soup, on the other hand, is outstandingly healthy. And my kids—yours, too, I’ll bet—would all starve before they’d eat fish soup. This recipe, therefore, is not for your children. It’s for you. Do not even attempt to entice a child to eat it. Tell them that some things are not meant for them. They can’t watch R-rated movies, drink the same beverages you drink, wake up to a cup of hot coffee, and they damned-well can’t have any of your fish soup. Make them eat a greasy taco while you sip fish soup, going “ahh” and “ooh” every now and then, with your eyes closed, as you imagine yourself on a tropical isle, ladling exotic flavors from the sea down your throat. Who knows? Maybe the little rascals will sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and steal a mug or two.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been able to imagine how wonderful a really good fish soup would taste. I felt it would be a combination of clam chowder and oyster stew, two of my favorite meals. My problem is that over a period of twenty years, I never came across a recipe for plain old fish soup that came anywhere close to these dishes. My other problem was that I used to religiously follow the recipes I found, rather than experiment, or modify them. I was certain I’d find a recipe—one that was definitive—that I loved. Because of my bullheadedness, my children suffered. I prepared meal after meal of quite-awful fish soup.
Some of us men are lucky in life. We have wives who’ll always come to our rescue, who’ll stand beside us as we attempt to raise our kids together, no matter what we do wrong. We lucky men, though few, have an ally, a friend, a bulwark, one who comes to our aid when the children refuse to do as they’re told. Most of the time I am among these lucky, most fortunate of men. But not when I bring a huge, steaming bowl of fish soup to the dinner table.
My helpmate, my wife who promised to always adore me, crossed over to the other side and joined the children the first time I served up fish soup. Hey—I know it was awful tasting, but great cooks have to experiment, and who better to experiment on than one’s own family? Well, to make a long story short, we ordered lots of pizza back in the days when I was experimenting with my fish soup. The children, always themselves, would see and smell a big pot of fish soup on the stove and ask what we were having for supper. I’d say “fish soup,” and they’d jump up and down with joy, shouting, “Yay—it’s pizza night!”
Several years ago, after all the children had finally moved out (and, yes, we’ve had the same experience most Americans have had—entire batches of the children, with their own children, have moved in from time to time, out of economic necessity), I finally saw the error of my ways. I was never going to find a clear-cut recipe for fish soup that was like the one I had in my mind. I was leafing through some magazines and came across three recipes for fish soup, each different, and yet each similar in some respects. I decided to take only the parts of each recipe I knew I would like, add some Tony Chachere’s, and see what happened. What happened was a “Eureka!” moment. I ended up with two fish soup recipes, both of which I loved. I tried them immediately, and both were wonderful. The only problem was that my wife, inured from many years of not-so-tasty experimental fish soup, would not even try them. She still won’t. “Not for me, thanks,” is all she’ll say. I ruined her—or, as we say around here, “ruint her”—by fixing too many distasteful fish soups. Oh, well. Nowadays, when I fix fish soup, I let my wife eat leftovers. Or she orders a pizza. Not me. I place the bowl of steaming vegetables and sea creatures on the table, sit, and take in the wonderful aroma. I close my eyes, dreaming of tropical paradises, and feel blessed that there aren’t any complaining children present whom I need to scold because they aren’t eating the healthy meal I prepared. I plunge my spoon into the soup and go “ooh” and “ahh.” I take my time and enjoy every sip of my wonderful creation. It took me close to twenty years to find this soup. Now I want to enjoy it for another twenty.
|Tomato-based Recipe Ingredients||Cream-based Ingredients|
Directions (for both):
Heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the fresh vegetables (the onions, garlic, peppers, potatoes, carrots, celery root, etc., depending on which recipe you are using, and which vegetables. Don’t add the canned vegetables at this time.). Sauté for five minutes.
Add all other ingredients except shrimp and scallops. Cook over low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Don’t cover with lid. The soup should have a gentle roll as it slowly boils, sending sweet scents throughout the kitchen.
Order a pizza for your wife and children.
Add shrimp and scallops. Cook another 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes (on the burner is okay).
Toss all scallops that didn’t open.
As soon as pizza is delivered and paid for, suggest that the kids and your wife watch TV while they eat. Go to soup pot and ladle some soup into a sturdy bowl. Put bowl on a plate, grab a big, man-sized soup spoon, a heavy-duty napkin, and take all to table. Sit. Relax. Place both your arms on the table—no one’s watching, man. No need for Miss Manners tonight. Be yourself for a change. Smell the aroma. Close your eyes. Close out the sound of the TV. Take the first sip. Burp if you feel the need. Yep—you’re there—you’re on the tropical isle. Go on, admit it. This is the best damn soup you ever ate. Even if you have to eat it alone. – Earl.