My mother is the original Real Food Lover. She says the original Real Food Lover was her mother. Because this is how we learn about food: from the people close to us.
My mum always says the best education you can give a child is to educate the palate.
My mum bought this hake the day before at Tachbrook Street market, Victoria, where my dad used to be a one-man GP.
Here is a link to a video of my mum explaining to my eldest daughter how to make fish soup.
It starts with the drama of stopping the fishmonger from throwing away fish-heads:
“‘I’ll have the head!'” she cries. “He was going to throw it into the bin,” she says, with disbelief.
My mum makes the stock from the (rescued) sea bass head and its bones, the head from the large hake from whence come the cutlets, as well as prawn shells.
She adds bay leaf and peppercorns, with just enough water to cover, and cooks it for twenty minutes, with the lid on.
Here is a video of my mum agonising over how much water she used and describing the importance of a lid.
She remembers the way her mother cooked:
“Now, my mother used to tilt the lid – her soups were never watery…But I don’t trust myself.”
While the stock is simmering, she sweats the fennel and leeks in olive oil.
After twenty minutes, she drains the stock, keeping the liquid, to which she adds quartered potatoes and a pinch of saffron which gives the soup the yellow-colour, and a delicate aroma.
Here are the drained remains of the fish head and bones after they have yielded their flavour to the liquid stock.
Fay pours the stock over the vegetables and cooks until tender but “not too tender,” she adds.
When she is ready to serve, she removes the vegetables with a slotted spoon.
Then Fay heats the stock and adds the fish.
You must never cook the fish too long.
According to my mum, her mother “used to scream down the ‘phone: “Don’t cook it too long.'”
What is too long?
What? You want measurements?
As my mum says: “Nothing is made to measure.”
Basically, as soon as the fish starts to gently flake, you take the fish off the heat.
It all depends on the thickness of the fillet, or, in this case, the hake cutlets. Five to ten minutes?
“You know how to make rouille?” My mother asks my eldest daughter.
With garlic, cloves and red chilli pepper – I’d better check that.
Geraldine (added after publication) gives rouille recipe:
“The rouille will be made with crushed cloves of garlic and red chilli pepper, and mashed as you say into a paste made of stock soaked bread (instead of egg yolks).”
Fay adds bread soaked in the fish stock, then carefully drips-and-whirrs olive oil to make a mayonnaise.
And you don’t just eat the meal. You have to analyse it in detail.
My mum remembers her parents discussing the make-up of every dish back in the 1930s.
And here we are, in the 21st century, still doing it.