praise for the red snapper soup

It occurred to me yesterday I hadn't had red snapper since the last trip to Mexico and I do miss it.

Incidentally, the word for the fish, "Red Snapper" in Spanish is "huachinango," wah-chi-nango, I could not get that word through my thick skull even though the woman repeated it several times and even though it was printed right there on a menu board behind her in a tiny cafe. She laughed at my inept attempts to take up the word, correcting my pronunciation each time until getting it right, and having a great time with her cook at how thick I am. Oh, how they giggled. Finally, I associated the word with "Washington" and now wah-chi-nango comes to mind foremost ahead of Red Snapper even here in the US. That is how I know the fish. 

Red Snapper is one of my favorite fish. I live in Denver, the capital of Colorado fairly in the center of the state and the state is fairly in the center of the whole country, far from the Pacific and the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, not equidistant, but nearly so. We do have fish here but it is all from rivers and from lakes. So, mostly river trout. And excellent as trout is, I still miss my favorite ocean fish. All of that is flown in at great expense. I lived in a lot of places as a boy but I have never lived anywhere that so many native residents say outright point blank, "I never eat seafood." The reason they say that is because they never had good seafood cooked properly. But all that I said about that is changing quite fast due to high influx of new people who do not hold that prejudice.

One time on a train back from Glenwood Springs (the fateful trip when I broke my femur right at the hip) the menu in the dining car listed under "Seafood" the single entry "trout" to illustrate the extent of confusion. I thought that was funny. I mentioned that to my companions at the table and they regarded me thereafter as picayune pedant. 

Today, boom, Red Snapper right there in Whole Foods seafood case. There were only two in the case. Eyes so bright they looked happy to be there. Not filleted as the other options, two very large fish. I snatched one of them up without even thinking about it to satisfy my previous thought. The woman kindly filleted the fish right there, I could observe her doing her work. She left a lot on the bone. I bought the two fillets and asked the young woman if I may have the rest and she turned back and smiled at me charmingly and agreeably is if to convey, "Aha! You know what to do with this." It accounted for the bulk of its weight.

Fish heads, fish heads, rolly-poly fish heads. Fish heads, fish heads, eat them up yum. 

French cooks are magnificent with managing seafood, their bouillabaisse is the best fish soup I've ever had. It is basically a variety of Mediterranean fish, catch of the day with saffron served with their excellent bread toasted and smeared with rouille (rust in English) pronounced uh-rue'-y(l)eh, olive oil, red chile peppers, bread crumbs (so bread on top of bread) garlic, and a touch more saffron. 

I tried matching that wonderful seafood soup bouillabaisse several different ways. My attempts can be found by Blogger's search box up there at tippy-top left ↖.

But I tell you what I found by living there. Nobody does seafood like Japanese do. Nobody does. 

Japanese practically live on seafood. They bring the ocean right to your bowl. They do this by two main ingredients. One is "kombu," an edible kelp. It comes dried and looks like brittle black papery slabs. A small piece heated in water swells considerably and forms a sort of seawater tea. 

That is the best way I have to describe it. The piece of kombu a few inches square is put in water and brought to the boil, then allowed to stand off the heat for ten minutes. The kelp, now thicker and all around larger is discarded, or it can be cut into slices as crunchy noodles. That's it. Wonderfully easy. They call this kombu dashi, kelp soup. It forms the base of a million things. No sensible Japanese household is without it.

The other basic ingredient is dried skipjack tuna thinly shaved to flakes. Traditionally they use a special box with a blade to shave off flakes from the extra dried fish, sort of like bonito jerky. The flakes fall into the box, recovered by opening a little drawer. But now the shaved dry flakes are marketed loosely in bags. It is very good stuff to have around in one's pantry.

I did not use the bonito flakes because I have so much Red Snapper and that would be redundant and overdoing the whole thing.

I used ordinary vegetables I have on hand. Fortunately I happen to have daikon radish. Daikon is the white curly shreds used to present sushi. It is an extraordinarily long mild-flavored radish that becomes even milder when soaked. It imparts an especially attractive flavor. In Western markets daikon is chopped into reasonable length chunks.

I also have on hand regular Western sweet potatoes. It works excellently in this soup and it cooks rather more quickly than expected. I also have small red potato, onion, paper thin slices of garlic and mushrooms. 

Cilantro at the end along with a slightly bitter leafy lettuce. Also chile flakes. 

But none of the usual suspects such as cumin nor coriander, no saffron, no turmeric, nothing extra. 

Salt and pepper, of course, but nothing like fish sauce and no soy sauce, nothing like toasted sesame oil, or any of that. Tofu would be perfect. So would miso paste. 

Oh! I also added a speck of wasabi, so a faint mustardy-horseradish thing going on.  

Finally after taste-testing, I noticed a tiny touch of sugar and a few teaspoons lime or rice vinegar would round out the profile. 

Goodness, this soup is wonderful. I uninhibitedly filled myself to the, er, gills. There is still some left but I am full now and I cannot wait to get right back on it until it is gone. 

Gone. All gone. 

And all this from scraps that would have otherwise been thrown away. 

And to top all that off, I still have the fillets. 


Unknown said...

Awwwk! While Denver is pretty much equidistant from the Pacific and the Gulf, about 1500 miles, that distance eastward would get you only so far as Jackson, Tennessee, leaving you quite a bit short - about the distance between Liverpool and Genoa. The Atlantic is some 2300 miles from Denver at its closest point.

Chip Ahoy said...

Yeah, I know.

Try driving it. You'll find the mountains present quite a problematic consideration.

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