Morning-After Fish-and-Mussel Soup

May 10, 2011

Now, I trust you kept hold of that mussel broth, like I asked you to in the last entry.  This is one of those fridge-emptier recipes, one of those “Oh, damn it, what am I going to do with all this ingredient x” standbys.

Often, after having confronted a tasty bowl of mussels in a restaurant, one is left with a delicious pool of broth that one is powerless to address.  Sure, the waitstaff has brought out bread for the mussels, but it is never enough for one, is it?  One cannot request more bread, as one would feel like a glutton, especially if the mussels in question are intended to be the prelude to the evening’s entrée.  One is therefore resigned to bidding the delicious mussel broth a tearful goodbye.

No more, I say!  I’m not about to go out and say that you request to have the mussel broth boxed up and taken home with you, although that isn’t, strictly speaking, a bad idea.  But when you make mussels, reserve that broth!  Hold it tight to your breast, because that’s half the work of another meal right there.  There’s no reason that the work of one meal can’t be the work of two or three.  In fact, let’s codify that as a Recession Tip:

David’s Tips for Living Well in A Recession

Tip #4: The effort it takes to generate one meal can be redirected into easily making others.

I suppose I’d sort of forgotten about those.  I should point out that making your own coconut milk fits neatly into Tip 3#: process it yourself.

Anyway, let’s say you’ve just made either the Thai Mussels or the Garam Mussela, and you’ve got, oh, a cup and a half of broth left over or so – this is a coconut-mussel stock, with either wine or tomato providing the rest of the liquid.  This is the time when those little freezer packs of tilapia come in immensely handy, though this would, obviously, work with fresh fish of any sort.

It's easy to assemble!  No batteries required.

Morning-After Fish-and-Mussel Soup, à la Thaïlandais

Serves two, or one for breakfast and then lunch

The Setup

You will need:

  • a little oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • a piece of ginger the size of your distal thumb joint (the part with the thumbnail on it), minced
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms – about eight, sliced
  • 1½ to 2 cups leftover mussel broth, with the mussels removed and set aside
  • 1 tilapia filet, maybe 4 to 5 oz, frozen (or not.  Also, any other firm, white-fleshed fish in similar quantity)
  • a touch of fish sauce
  • the juice of half a lime
  • (optional) a splash of cream
  • Hot steamed rice, to serve with

The Heist

  1. Execute your mise-en-place: mince the garlic and the ginger, put in a tiny bowl.  Slice the mushrooms and set aside.
  2. Cut the fish into 1-inch chunks, and set aside while you heat a small saucepan with a little bit of oil.

    Fish is awfully easy to cut when it's frozen.  These tilapia also come in those little single-use packs that I so abhor for chicken breasts, but they don't seem to bug me for fish.

  3. Saute the garlic and the ginger until they’re aromatic and soft.

    As you read these recipes - especially if you don't consider yourself someone who cooks - start looking BEYOND the recipe and into the structure of the thing.

  4. Then add the mushrooms, stirring occasionally; cook till somewhat brown.

    For example, it seems like every recipe I ever start on the stove tends to involve the cooking of aromatics in a fat of some kind - in this case, our aromatics are garlic and ginger, and that fat is a vegetable oil. 

  5. Add in the mussel stock (reserving the mussels themselves – you’re going to add them in just before serving, because you just want them to warm through, and bring to a bare simmer.  Squirt in the lime juice, the fish sauce, and the optional splash of cream.  You are also free to add more stock, more water, or whatever you wish, if you feel that you lack enough liquid in the pan.

    We cook things until they're brown, usually, because brown is evidence of tasty Maillard reactions or caramelization, which, in the case of the first, rewrites protein molecules so that they say Brown and Delicious, whereas, in the case of the second, sucrose gets melted and broken down into component sugars, which are also rearranged to spell Brown and Delicious, molecularly speaking.

  6. Tip in the chunks of tilapia and cook over medium heat until the fish is firm to the touch or tooth, about five to seven minutes.

    I'm sure I'll run afoul of a great number of organic chemists, particularly the ones that read alt-text (I know great scads of you read XKCD, anyhow).  If you happen to be one, and you recognize how poorly I'm representing these chemical reactions, send me an email: DavidRheinstrom@gmail.com.  I'm all ears.
    It should look somewhat like this:

    The point is, though, that, as a general rule of cuisine, we cook things until these reactions happen, and then, in the case of soup, we add a stock or a broth or some kind of liquid to cover, and the Brown and Delicious molecules get rearranged into a solution and in that way are distributed throughout a dish.  If you think about it, a deglazing is very similar, except that you use quite a bit less liquid.

  7. Stir in the mussels, and heat through, about a minute or two.

    Encourage yourself to start thinking beyond the constraints of Recipe, as they're only guidelines.  I didn't use a recipe to come up with this soup.  I just used taste memory, good sense, and  a long and storied relationship with soup to craft it.

  8. Serve over hot white rice, sprinkle with chopped cilantro, and eat with iced tea.  Enjoy your day.

    There's no reason why you couldn't do the same.

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