Fay’s fish soup with fennel

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.

Here are the saffron-coloured vegetables, removed temporarily from the saucepan.

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?

Here is my eldest daughter scooping out the rouille my mum made.

“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.

11 responses to “Fay’s fish soup with fennel

  1. Wow! I think you’ve discovered a whole new art form, a blog-vlog? I loved how you interspersed written description with the ‘evidence’ using the videos. I’ve never seen that before ! Very creative. And amazing to see Fay on video…talking about family food and have that for our grandchildren and future generations.


  2. Thank you! Thank you! I have had this blog in my head since our visit at the end of February – it is such a relief to get it out of my head…

    Then I had to work out how to do make the videos visible – that took most of this morning…

    The vlog or video log does have a fine pedigree. Here is a definition from the Urban Dictionary: “A journalistic video documentation on the web of a person’s life, thoughts, opinions, and interests. A vlog can be topical and timeless, instructional and entertaining. The main thread is trying to communicate on a personal level with your audience.”


  3. Thanks for the brilliant video…..wish I had one of my mum explaining something fascinating! Anyway, not sure I would like fish soup, but it sounded yummy and if I were to want fish soup, this is the recipe I would use!


  4. Ah, Jody…(the dotdotdot is feelings for mums.).

    Thanks. I am pleased with the video, the first time I have used it on my blog. And I used my ‘phone, just whipped it out at the table. Nothing set up or planned – I think it works best that way…

    Wish I had used video in US…like, maybe when you were talking about working at Whole Foods Market when it started out all fresh and authentic in Austin, when we were in that organic cafe in Sedona…


  5. Geraldine Winkler

    That was very moving and brilliant to have a VIDEOBLOG. Fay remembers her mother, as no doubt she remembers her and so on. This will go back many many generations, and forward too. I hope.

    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).


  6. Hello Elizabeth
    What a lovely video! I wish I had one of my mother teaching me all about little ideas, which I think seems to come very handy. Personally, I tend to chuck fish heads away – now I know what to do next time. Thanks for that.


  7. Pingback: Inner West – Seafood Platter for Two - Deals2Inbox

  8. Dear Elizabeth
    Brilliant. Lovely.Very moving. I watched with a smile on my face. You should do more. Making Gefillta Fish, Gedempta fowl, chicken soup, the list is endless
    Its worthy of an Schmoska, Voska?


  9. I am so pleased, Malcolm

    – and all those suggestions are goooood…

    Now to be alert for another opportune culinary moment.

    Lovely to see Susannah on Sunday and be in her company.

    As for schnapps, yes please (I find spirits agree with me whereas most wines do not…).


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