Story and photo by Manos Angelakis
Additional photos courtesy of the importer
Kakavia (Greek fish soup).
One of the most famous dishes is bouillabaisse, a fish soup initially made by French fishermen with fish caught in seine nets that can’t be sold to restaurant cooks or housewives that usually wait at the shore for the fishermen to pull the seine in.
In Greece where I grew up, Greek fishermen also use seine nets and make a fish soup with the “garbage” fish, i.e. fish that’s too small or too ugly (Greek housewives don’t buy “ugly” fish), such as scorpion fish, monkfish or baby cod coming into the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles from the Black Sea.
The soup is called Kakavia, from the three-footed cauldron “Kakavi” that the fishermen use to make the soup on a beach fire. Traditionally made with the catch of the day, this dish is made with a variety of fish and seafood and changes with the seasons, as long as the fish is suitable for boiling. The difference between the Kakavia and the bouillabaisse is that while the French use fresh water to make the soup, the Greeks use a blend of fresh water and seawater from the Mediterranean, 60/40.
I love Kakavia, but haven’t had any since I left Greece 55 years ago.
I’m mentioning this because at the last Summer Fancy Food Show that took place at the Jacob Javits Convention Center I found an importer that brings in, from Spain, purified Mediterranean seawater to be used in cooking.
So, I decided to get a container sample of the seawater, and make my own version of Kakavia.
My fish monger doesn’t have any small ugly fish, so I decided to use fish fillets instead of entire fish in the soup but I also utilize the heads and trimmings by boiling them in a cheesecloth bag -- this way one can avoid having to deal with spines and scales that have to be strained out of the soup. The recipe will feed 6 comfortably.
A) 3/4 lb. each of fish fillets and seafood:
18 Littleneck Clams or Mussels
2 medium very ripe tomatoes
1 large onion quartered
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp thyme
4 cilantro stems (or curly parsley, if cilantro is too strong for your taste)
3 cloves garlic, smashed but not diced
2 carrots cut in 1 ˝ inch lengths
4 celery stems, sliced in 1 inch lengths
5 potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup extra virgin olive oil *
Juice of 3 or 4 lemons
10 Peppercorns (I prefer Malabar Black)
C) 8 cups water -- 5 cups fresh water and 3 cups seawater
1 bag made of cheesecloth, large enough to hold heads and trimmings from the fish.
* Editor’s Note: I used a light, almost salad-grade olive oil in the soup from Italian oil blender Oleificio Zucci. I would also possibly suggest a blend of Koroneki, Arbequina and Frantoio which is similar to the Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil blend of Oleificio Zucchi.
You don’t have to have a three-legged cauldron over a beach fire; a good sized pot will do just fine.
Clean the clams or mussels.
Sautee all vegetables with the exception of the cilantro or parsley stems in half of the olive oil until the onion quarters start to become transparent and the carrots and potatoes soften a bit, about 10 minutes. Drop the water blend in the pot; when the water starts to boil drop the cilantro or parsley stems in the water and, if you have kept the heads and fish trimmings from the fillets in the bag, drop the cheese cloth bag in the boiling water for 20 minutes. Remove and press the bag until all liquid has dripped back into the pot; discard the cheesecloth bag with the trimmings. Add the fish fillets and clams or mussels and boil for another 10 minutes or until the fillets are fully cooked. Discard any clams that have not opened.
When the fillets are fully cooked strain the liquid into a bowl and move the fish fillets and vegetables to a platter and keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaves.
Poor the lemon juice and balance of olive oil into the bowl with the fish liquid and mix well. Grind some fresh pepper into the liquid. Taste for saltiness and adjust accordingly.
Serve the soup in bowls or deep plates (soup plates); you can add croutons if you wish, though the fishermen usually float pieces of garlic rubbed fresh bread in the broth. The fish and vegetables are mostly served on the side but when I make the soup I add them back into the broth.
For Mediterranean seawater mediterraneaseawater.com or call 214-537-5070
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