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Fish and Seafood

Basque Fish Soup and Kokotxas

Ignacio and Luisa Arrizabalaga show us how to make Basque specialities.

Basque Fish Soup (Serves Ten):
500 g clams
500 g hake
250 g rockfish
500 g fresh cod
3 large carrots
2 leeks
2 medium sized onions
5 garlic cloves
1 green pepper
2 small cans of tomatoes
1 chili pepper
1 baguette (ca 250 g)
sea salt
olive oil
1 glass of brandy (optional)

Preparation:
The important thing about the fish soup is to cut all the ingredients into small pieces, except for the clams. It works with any kind of white saltwater fish. First soak the clams in cold, salted water for 6 hours, changing the water at least once. Clean them thoroughly, discarding any that remain open when touched. Put them a large pot with a little water, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan, until they have opened. Drain and remove the clams from their shells, discarding any that remain shut. Some could be kept in their shells for decoration, if liked. Do not boil the clams again once they have been cooked, they will be like rubber!

Method:
Wash the fish, clean and chop the carrots. Prepare the leeks. Put the fish, carrots and leeks in a large pan and cover with water up to three cm. deeper than the contents. Bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for about an hour. Chop the onions and garlic finely, cut the pepper into rough cubes. Then sweat them in oil until the onion is transparent. Puree the tomatoes with their juice and add to the vegetables. Simmer over a low heat for about 15 minutes.

Take the fish from the pan, remove the bones and break into chunks. Sieve the remaining stock ... the vegetables are no longer needed. Break the bread into chunks and add to the stock with the puréed tomatoes and fish. Put the soup through a mouli grater ... or you could use a liquidiser, but this will not give you the rough purée characteristic of Luisa Arrizabalaga's soup. Season with finely chopped chili and sea salt and simmer for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the clams. Warm through for five minutes, flambée with a glass of warmed cognac if liked. Taste and serve.

Kokotxas
(Cod or Hake Gill Flesh with Clams)
This Basque fish speciality is prepared with the finest parts of cod and hake, which are sold separately in Basque markets. For successful results, use only the best ingredients for this simple dish and take extra care with its preparation and cooking.

Serves Ten:
300-500 g clams
1 garlic bulb
100 ml olive oil
2 kg Kokotxas (the gill flesh from cod and hake - or use very good quality firm white flesh)
1 bunch parsley

Prepare the clams as for the Basque fish soup above, but keep the stock.

Preparation:
Break the garlic bulb into cloves, peel and slice thinly. Using a heavy sauté pan big enough to contain the fish pieces without overlapping, fry garlic slices in olive oil over a low heat, stirring until they turn golden brown. Do not allow the garlic to burn, and remove it when golden, leave to cool.

Method:
Put the Kokotxas skin side down in the pan with the olive oil and garlic. Warm the sauté pan slowly over a very low heat. When juices start to come out of the fish pieces ... (5-10 mins) ... turn them over carefully, and cook as before, adding some of the clam stock to prevent the fish drying up. The bubbling clam stock makes the sauce. Finally, sprinkle cooked, shelled clams and chopped parsley over the fish and leave over a low heat until the clams have warmed through.
Serve immediately.