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Fish Soup In Percé, Canada

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It is easy enough to find the town of Percé once you are in Quebec. You just keep driving east until you can go no further without falling into the ocean, and there it is, right at the very tip of the Gaspé peninsula. Rising out of the mist is one of the most striking sights you will ever see - Percé Rock, or 'pierced rock', so called because of the distinctive hole in its middle. It is one of the main attractions of this region and people drive long distances to see it and savour the culinary delights this region is famous for.

A tour boat will take you on a trip around the rock, where you can watch the  wheeling gannets and seagulls careening overhead and marvel at the seals sunning themselves on the rocks. You also get a spectacular view of the Gaspé peninsula, with red lighthouses and charming little fishing villages along the North Atlantic shore.

We stayed in a bed-and-and breakfast inn known as La Presbytère, housed in the former presbytery of the old cathedral. The century old house was lovingly restored by our host, Michel, and gave you the impression of being carried back in time to a bygone era. In the morning when we descended for breakfast we found that Michel had outdone himself with a truly spectacular breakfast.

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Spread before us was a feast of homemade jams, preserves, patés, custards, fresh baked breads, macerated fruit, just picked tomatoes from his garden and a magnificent ham that was the highlight of the meal. A meal of such magnificent proportions didn't really need to be followed by a heavy lunch and we settled for one of our favourite fish soups a few hours later.

The abundance of fresh seafood often found its way into many different seafood soups. We had seafood bouillabaisse, chowder, shellfish minestrone and many other creative versions. My absolute favourite was the rich, flavourful and aromatic fish soup. No two fish soups were ever the same - the taste often varied with the kind of fish available. I especially loved the soups where a lot of vegetables were also added in along with the assortment of fresh fish.

This hearty, comforting fish soup is perfect for cold winter evenings. The secret to it's deep, rich flavour is in the long, slow simmer of vegetables. They cook down, adding their delicious taste to the broth while thickening the soup at the same time. The whole spices add depth of flavour and a rich aroma to the soup as well.

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This soup is a great way to use up all those bits and pieces of vegetables lying around in your refrigerator. Use all of your favourites! You can make the vegetable based broth ahead of time and throw in the fish to cook just before you plan to serve the soup. Pair it with some crusty bread for dunking! 

 Fish Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

 2 each, whole: cloves, cardamom

1/4 inch piece cinnamon  stick

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 each, finely chopped: carrot, sweet red pepper, zucchini

1 stick celery, finely chopped

1 potato, peeled and finely chopped

15 green beans, trimmed and cut into half inch pieces

3 large ripe plum tomatoes, chopped

1 carton  (900 ml) chicken or seafood broth

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1 lb assorted fresh fish such as salmon, cod and haddock, skinned and cut into 1 inch pieces

Warm oil in deep saucepan or soup pot over medium high heat. Add whole spices, onions, garlic and all the vegetables except the tomatoes. Saute for 5 min.

Add tomatoes, broth, salt, pepper and parsley. Cover pot, bring contents to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours. 

Mash vegetables lightly into broth to thicken it. Add fish and cook for 10 min or until fish is cooked through, flaky and disintegrating slightly into the soup.

Serves four