Nigel Slater’s recipes for hake and fennel soup and salmon soup

You can spend hours making a pot of fish soup. Simmering the bones with water, onion and bay; steaming mussels and clams and winkling the flesh from its shell; crushing crab shells with a mallet and pounding egg yolks, garlic and oil to make a sunny accompanying aioli. A day’s work, a kitchen in turmoil – oh the washing-up – but your trouble is rewarded with a cauldron of piscine, rust-coloured gorgeousness. It is something I might do twice a year, on a wet Saturday.

But fish soup can be a quick supper, too. A simple broth of stock and vegetables, white or oily fish and a handful of herbs can be ready in half an hour. I made a hake and fennel soup this week – a one-pan job – a substantial, filling bowl despite its broth-like consistency. (It works admirably with water or vegetable stock if you have no bones with which to make fish stock.)

That soup was the first of two: the second, a cream of salmon recipe with tiny droplets of oil dancing on its surface and teasing aniseed notes from needles of chopped dill – soup similar to the market-hall versions I have in Finland. You could make the fish go a little further with a few diced potatoes. Use the waxy variety, cut into small dice and added with the fennel, or, as I sometimes serve it with a mound of floury, white-fleshed potatoes to mash into the apricot-coloured depths.

There is a habit in our house to follow such autumn lunches with cheese, and that was the case this week, with some dusky-skinned muscat grapes, a crisp pear and a wedge of Caerphilly. There was bread, too, cut thick, both to eat with cheese and to wipe our soup bowls clean.

Hake and fennel soup
There is a delightful piquancy to this soup. You can increase the sweet-sourness by adding some the juice from the pickle jar. I sometimes leave a small jug of it on the table so everyone can help themselves. A firm white fish is what you need, preferably on the bone. Much will depend on what you get that is sustainable and reasonably priced. A piece of hake, haddock or cod cut through the bone will be perfect. Serves 4 as a main dish

onions 2
olive oil
garlic 1 clove
tomatoes 350g
fennel a small bulb
button mushrooms 100g
vegetable or fish stock 1 litre
gherkins 6, small
green olives 16, stoned
parsley a few sprigs
dill 3 bushy sprigs
white fish 4 x steaks, 800g, on the bone
soured cream 4 tbsp

Peel and roughly chop the onions. Using a deep, heavy-based pan over a moderate heat, let them soften in a little oil, taking care they do not go beyond pale gold in colour. Peel the garlic, slice thinly and stir into the onions.

Roughly chop the tomatoes, add to the onions and cook for 10-15 minutes, until they are soft. Finely slice the fennel and mushrooms and add them to the pan, continue to cook for a few minutes, until the fennel has started to soften. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, adding salt and pepper.

Slice the gherkins and olives, chop the parsley and dill leaves and set aside. Lower the fish steaks into the broth and continue cooking for 5-7 minutes or until the fish parts easily from the bone. Stir in the gherkin, olives, parsley and dill. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, and if you wish a little of the liquid from the gherkin jar.

Ladle into warm bowls and serve with a bowl of soured cream.

Salmon soup

You will need something to soak up the creamy juices. Steamed potatoes is a splendid way to go. You don’t have to peel them, but I like to, so their flesh can easily be crushed into the soup with your fork. I sometimes add broccoli to this recipe, the brassica sliced into florets, its delicious stalks into thick coins, dropped into the soup for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

onion 1, medium to large
leek 1
butter 50g
swede 350g
water 1.25 litres
tomatoes 200g
salmon fillet 600g
double cream 100ml
dill a small bunch
lemon juice to taste

Peel and roughly chop the onion. Shred and thoroughly rinse the leek in cold running water (grit can get trapped between the layers). Melt the butter in a deep, heavy-based pan and add the chopped onion and leek. Let them cook over a low to moderate heat, partially covered with a lid. Stir regularly, so they do not colour. They should be soft enough to crush between your finger and thumb –it will take a good 20 minutes.

Peel and roughly dice the swede, add to the onion and leek and cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Pour in the water, bring to the boil and season lightly with salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and continue cooking, partially covered.

Chop the tomatoes and add them to the soup. When the swede is fully tender, cut the salmon into large pieces and lower them into the soup. Season with pepper and let the salmon cook for 5 minutes, until it is just done. Pour in the cream and mix in gently – you don’t want the salmon to break up. Chop a couple of tablespoons of dill fronds and stir them in, then add a little lemon juice to taste and serve.