Saturday, March 1, 2014

Venetian Fish Soup Or Stew

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This is probably one of the best fish soups or stews you will ever eat.  It is a classic at Harry's Bar in Venice.

 Having lucked out on some fish this week, I decided to serve it as a stew by adding more fish and shrimp and serving it with white rice on the side. I also cut the pieces slightly larger than I would for a soup.  Either way, it is fish soup (or stew) at its best, but only if you follow it to a t and use good fresh fish.
I know I have just published a recipe from Harry's (the cannelloni) and you may be wondering what's up with me.  While looking for the pasta recipe I came across this and decided I must try it.  Heaven knows I have heard raves about it but never had enough room in me to have both this and a pasta when I visited the restaurant.    So I had to give it a go before this winter was over and here we are, March 1st.  The daffodils are about to pop.

Although I served it for dinner tonight, it would also make a fine main course for Sunday lunch with friends or family.

Make sure you make the fish broth from scratch.  A good stock can make or break a soup or stew like this and fish cubes don't cut the mustard here.  Trust me, the end result will more than reward you.
I used fresh mahi mahi and flash frozen cod.  Fresh shrimp would be great.

Don't skip anything, and that includes the anchovies and the parsley.  I know you are frowning at the former and consider the latter a waste of time.  They are not.
Make sure you accompany with a fresh baguette even if you serve with rice on the side.

The real color of the soup is a beautiful saffron or that of butternut squash.  Not being a great photographer, I had to touch up and it came out like this. 

 Venetian Fish Soup

Serves 6 to 8 as a first course or 6 if doubling the fish and shrimp and serving with rice as a stew.


  • 2 stalks celery, cut into julienne strips
  • 2 medium onions, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, julienned
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups stock (brodo) -- fish or half fish and half vegetable
  • 1/4 (or more) t. saffron threads (steep in tablespoon of hot stock for20 minutes)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch cayenne
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. EACH of two kinds of boneless, skinless white fish (such as halibut, sea bass, monkfish) cut into 1/2 inch. pieces
  • 1/2 lb. medium shrimp (shelled, deveined), cut into thirds
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 clove garlic, minced                                                 
  • 2 canned anchovy fillets, drained and chopped (or use anchovy paste)
  • 3 flat leaf parsley sprigs, chopped
  • fresh rosemary, leaves from 1 sprig chopped (or pinch dried)
  • fresh thyme, leaves from 1 sprig chopped (or pinch dried)

  • First make the brodo or stock (See below). Set aside. 
  • Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add celery, onions and carrot and cook, stirring often for 5 minutes or until soft but not brown.
  • Add tomato and cook for 1 minute
  • Stir in 1/4 c. flour and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Stir in wine and bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes, until mixture has thickened.
  • Stir in stock, saffron, bay leaf, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, combine remaining flour with 1/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper in plastic bag, and toss fish and shrimp until well coated.
  • Heat 2 Tbsp. of the oil in large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook fish and shrimp, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until browned and just cooked. Don't overcook.
  • Add brandy to skillet to warm it, then (standing back) ignite brandy. Swirl the skillet until flames die down, then add contents of skillet to soup.
  • Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients, anchovies, rosemary, thyme, parsley and garlic and cook for a minute or two.  Pour the flavored oil through a strainer into the soup.   Let flavors blend a few minutes before serving.

Brodo (fish stock):

2 to 3 lbs bones of any white fish
1 medium onion cut in chunks
2 leeks, white part only, washed and sliced
1 celery rib cut in chunks
2 quarts cold water
1 cup dry white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp salt
bouquet garni of
3 flat leaf parsley sprigs
1 thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
10 peppercorns all tied in cheesecloth

Throw everything in a stock pot, bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes on medium partially covered.  Let cool.  Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl

Recipe adapted from Harry's Bar Cookbook
All photos Lindaraxa


  1. What a luscious soup. It could definitely be a main course for me and the flavors of saffron, brandy and garlic must be incredible. And better still, it contains one of my favorites - mahi mahi. Gosh I miss freshly caught mahi mahi. When they are running in the Atlantic, they practically jump in your boat. They are perfect for soup such as this.

    I also would not skip the anchovies. They give such a subtle richness without overpowering a dish. Mario Batali says, "you're not obligated to tell they are in a dish" and I take that as gospel :)

    1. I too miss the fresh mahi, although the piece I got was pretty good. No fishy smell...I'll settle for that. The ingredients was what got me too, especially the brandy and saffron. People don't realize the subtle richness anchovies add to a dish. That is why I always try to make the point when I use them. Gorgeous day today, almost 70 degrees!

  2. It is a beautiful soup, Linda. Unfortunately under lights, the yellows can get cancelled out... natural light would help to show off the gorgeous color a bit better but I certainly can see it. So many good things in it and the weather is still cold and snowy up NYC way... perfect for a great fish soup.

    1. I'm going to try to take another photo today in daylight but wanted to get something up last night. So many things to think about when you are a food blogger!!
      Saw the weather in NYC. We are getting a high of 70 today. Cross your fingers, it's coming your way!

  3. I'll make this. I love fish soups and stews - absolutely love 'em!


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