Fish soup (Zuppa di Pesce)

My parents came over for dinner and my dad’s favorite dish is fish soup filled with different kinds of seafood. There are many varieties of this type of soup, including bouillabaisse from France and zarzuela from Spain. It can’t be a surprise that my version is Italian style and therefore called zuppa di pesce. The quality of this soup depends solely on the freshness of the seafood used, and there are hardly any ingredients besides the seafood itself. It is a very elegant dish that looks great to boot.

From sous-vide cooking we’ve learned that the ideal temperature to cook most fish is about 50C/122F. Above this temperature fish and other seafood become tough, dry, and flaky, but at this temperature everything is tender and juicy. For this soup we use the temperature of sous-vide cooking without using any sous-vide equipment.

If you let your fishmonger do the filleting for you, this soup is relatively easy to make. Just make sure you ask your fishmonger to give you all the heads and bones for the stock. You can pick whatever fish and other seafood is freshest, as long as you have some variety and include at least fish, shells and crustaceans. White fish is preferred rather than other fish like salmon, mackerel or tuna. You could also add scallops or squid if you like.


Gratuitous monkfish shot. Quite scary, isn’t it?

For 4 servings

1 monkfish, about 1 kg (2.2 lbs)

1 turbot, about 1 kg (2.2 lbs)

1 tub gurnard, about 500 grams (1.1 lbs) (rode poon in Dutch, galinella in Italian)

1 or 2 red mullets, about 500 grams (1.1 lbs)

(or substitute with other white fish)

1 kg (2.2 lbs) mussels

1 kg (2.2 lbs) vongole

(or substitute with other shells)

8 or 12 scampi (langoustines; 700 grams or 1.5 lbs) or jumbo shrimp

optional: squid

2 Tbsp fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped

1 clove garlic


1 glass (100 ml) dry white wine

300 grams (2/3 pound) cherry tomatoes

2 Tbsp olive oil

For the stock

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 onion

1 tomato

black pepper corns


Ask your fishmonger to fillet all the fish and make sure to take home all the heads and bones. Remove all the eyes and gills, or ask your fishmonger to do this.

Make fish stock from the heads and bones, carrot, onion, celery, tomato, and peppercorns.

Let the vongole clean themselves by putting them in water as salty as the sea (3% by weight, i.e. 1 liter of water with 30 grams of salt, or 1 quart of water with 1 oz of salt) for an hour or so. Rinse them with fresh water to remove the salt.

Heat the oil in a big skillet and add the garlic.

Add the mussels and vongole.

Cover and cook for a minute until the shells start to open up.

Add the white wine and the parsley. Stir to mix.

Cover again and cook for another minute or so.

Drain the shells, catching the liquid.

Spread out the shells to let them cool enough so you can handle them.

Take most of the meat out of the shells and discard the shells, but reserve some nice looking mussels and vongole for decoration.

If using scampi, make a cut in the heads to allow the juices to be released into the soup. You can also make a cut in the top of the tail to remove the vein with a toothpick.

If using jumbo shrimp, peel them and make a stock out of the heads and shells.

Mix the fish stock with the clam juice (and the shrimp stock if you made it). Heat this to a temperature of about 55C/130F.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in halves and add them to the stock.

Cut the fish fillets in large pieces (you’d want at least 4 pieces of each type of fish). Add the scampi, shells, and fish fillets to the soup.

Cook for half an hour, maintaining a temperature of about 50C/122F or slightly higher. Do not stir, but gently shake the pot now and then.

Take the seafood out of the soup with a slotted spoon and divide over warm deep plates. Ladle on some of the stock such that the seafood is covered to about half.

In summertime it’s nice to serve the soup lukewarm, but if you like the soup hot you can now heat up the stock to 85C/185F or so. Since the fish was only cooked to 50C/122F in the stock, fish proteins that have leaked into the stock will curdle when heated to a higher temperature. Use a sieve lined with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to remove the scum from the stock and ladle on the hot stock instead. Please note that the fish may be overcooked if the stock you add is too hot.

Wine pairing

This is outstanding with a complex dry Italian white such as a high-end verdicchio, a high-end soave, or a high-end greco di tufo.


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