What a fine kettle of fish Chicago is in. While the varieties of local fish are limited, restaurants are turning out exquisite fish dishes that rival those on either coast.
I asked some chefs to create a Chicago fish soup. The results were so delicious that two restaurants now feature those soups on their menus.
GITANES' FISH CHOWDER (6 to 8 servings) 6 pounds assorted fish and shellfish 2 quarts cold water with 1 tablespoon salt 1 large red onion 3 garlic cloves 7 tablespoons olive oil 2 cups canned tomatoes 2 tablespoons tomato paste Salt and fresh black pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon saffron 1/4 cup wine vinegar 6 cups veal broth or canned beef consomme 10 parsley sprigs 1/4 cup capers 2 limes (cut into 6 to 8 pieces) 6 to 8 slices of garlic bread, cut 1 1/2 inches thick
For fish use 1 (2-pound) bass or snapper, 1 (2-pound) whitefish, 1/2 pound smelt, 4 soft-shell or hard-shell crabs, 1/2 pound shrimp in shells, 1 pound squid (optional), 12 clams (optional) and 12 mussels (optional).
Clean all fish, removing heads and tails. Reserve heads. Cut fish into 1 1/2-inch square pieces, cutting across the width to leave the bones in. (If you want to remove bones, you may.) Clean shellfish. Clean the squid well and cut into rings. Place all seafood (fish, fish heads and shellfish) in a large bowl containing 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt. Let stand until needed.
Coarsely chop onion and garlic; place in large stockpot with olive oil and saute until golden brown (about 10 minutes). Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper and saffron and simmer 15 minutes. Add wine vinegar and reserved fish heads. Cook 15 minutes longer.
In a saucepan, heat broth to boiling point. Add this to stockpot and simmer 2 hours, covered. Strain contents of stockpot, forcing the juice from the solids through a strainer into a bowl. Then transfer contents of bowl back into the pot and return to heat. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Pour the soaked pieces of seafood into a colander. Rinse under cold running water and add them to the stockpot in the following order: if squid is used, add it first and allow about 30 minutes cooking time. After 15 minutes add the bass or snapper and whitefish pieces. Five minutes later add shrimp, crabs, smelt, mussels and clams and continue to cook for 10 to 12 minutes.
When all the seafood is cooked, remove stockpot from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Then, using a large ladle, select a sampling of each seafood for each serving. Sprinkle top with chopped parsley and capers. Serve with wedge of lime and piece of garlic bread.
NICK'S FISHMONGER SOUP (10 servings) 1 tablespoon butter 4 carrot sticks, julienne cut 5 celery sticks, julienne cut 2 medium onions, julienne cut One-sixteenth ounce saffron 3 drops hot pepper sauce 1 ounce Worcestershire 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/4 cup brandy 48 ounces clam juice Arrowroot diluted with water (to desired consistency) 2 to 3 pounds of any fresh fish you prefer: whitefish, Coho salmon, smelt or perch 3 pounds squid, uncleaned (1 1/2 pounds cleaned) and cut into rings (optional) 16 small clams (optional) 2 pounds mahi-mahi (optional) 16 cooked matzo balls (optional) 10 crayfish (optional)
Melt butter in large soup pot, and braise carrots, celery and onions (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add remaining ingredients up to arrowroot and bring to a boil. Add arrowroot to thicken to desired consistency.
Clean and bone fish. Cut into chunks, about 1-inch size, and add to stock along with matzo balls and seafood if used. Boil 5 to 7 minutes longer, depending on firmness of fish.
BASTILLE'S CHICAGO FISH SOUP 1 pound each white fish fillets, eel, lake perch fillets and bass fillets 1/4 cup olive oil 3 to 4 large cloves garlic, crushed 1 medium-size Spanish onion, minced 5 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded 2 cups dry white wine 4 cups water Bouquet garni (4 bay leaves, 1/4 tablespoon thyme, 5 springs fresh parsley, wrapped in cheesecloth) Salt and white pepper to taste 1 pound lake trout fillets 2 egg whites 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Cut whitefish, eel, perch and bass fillets into large chunks. Heat olive oil in pot large enough to hold all ingredients. Add garlic cloves and cook until they are golden brown. Remove garlic and discard.
Add onion and tomatoes and saute until onion is soft and tender. Add the chunked fish to onions and tomatoes and saute for about 5 minutes or until fish just starts to flake. Add white wine and 4 cups water. Add bouquet garni and season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Let soup simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.
To make a mousse for quenelles, puree well 1 pound lake trout fillets with 2 egg whites in a food processor or blender. Chill until cold. Then by hand, fold in the whipping cream and salt and pepper to taste. Chill mixture again until cold. This can be done ahead of time.
Heat a large saucepan full of salted water just until it simmers. Shape mousse mixture with 2 tablespoon-size spoons to make quenelles and poach in water until they are firm to touch. When firm, remove from pan and drain on towels.
To finish the soup, remove the bouquet garni and discard. Puree the soup in blender or food processor until it is smooth. Then pass it through a fine strainer and back into a pan. Return it to heat and adjust seasoning. Gently add quenelles to warm. Serve in shallow bowls and garnish each with a quenelle. Serve with toasted garlic croutons on the side.