Bowls of Comfort

Served as an appetizing first course or as a hearty meal, seafood soups dole out oceans of flavor.

Hearty Cioppino
Photo: Jean Allsopp

When it comes to comfort food, a simmering pot of soup ranks among the most versatile. Whether a creamy bisque, a basic consommé, or a more adventurous bouillabaisse, soups satisfy nearly any mood or taste. Adding seafood yields nutritious omega-3 fatty acids and a briny burst of flavor.

Virtually any type of seafood works for soup. While canned fish may be quick, fresh is better. The same holds true for stock, which serves as the foundation for most soups. A good broth imparts a depth and richness not possible in water-based soups.

Bouillon cubes or granules work in a pinch, but making your own fish stock is simple. You need only a pot of simmering water, a few trimmings (which include fish heads, shells, and bones), and some vegetables and seasonings. You can also make a specialty seafood stock with just shrimp shells and heads. Add a couple of celery stalks, a carrot or two, a sliced onion, and a bay leaf, or anything that sounds appealing.

Many seafood soups taste richer when cooked a day in advance, allowing time for the full flavor to develop. Prepared soup can be refrigerated for up to two days, but wait to add cream or garnishes until just before reheating. Whether you dive into great cioppino or chow down on chowder, one thing is certain: Seafood makes soup simply delicious.

 Hearty Cioppino 
Serve this Italian favorite with garlic bread or grilled focaccia.
1 red onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped
2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups fish or chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups zucchini, cubed (about 2 medium)
½ tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 sea scallops or 1 pound bay scallops
12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 pound red snapper or other firm, white fish, cut into large chunks

Cook onion, fennel, and chiles in oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven until onion is tender. Add bell pepper and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and next 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in zucchini and rosemary; bring to a simmer, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf. Stir in salt and pepper. Add scallops and shrimp, and cook 3 minutes. Add mussels and fish; cook 4 more minutes or until mussels open and fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Makes 6 servings.

 Halibut, Sweet Potato, and Leek Soup 
1½ pounds halibut fillets
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1½ cups sliced leeks
4 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes (about 1½ pounds)
4 cups fish, chicken, or vegetable broth
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup whipping cream
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Garnish: sour cream

Sauté halibut in 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Let cool slightly; break fish into bite-size chunks. Set aside. Sauté leeks in a Dutch oven in remaining 1 tablespoon butter 5 minutes or until leeks are soft. Add sweet potatoes and broth. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 to 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Puree soup in a blender or food processor until smooth, and return to Dutch oven. Stir in basil, whipping cream, and halibut. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until hot. Season with salt and white pepper, and ladle soup into individual serving bowls. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 Smoky Salmon-Clam Chowder 
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup sliced celery with leaves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
1 cup fish or chicken broth
1½ cups milk
3 cups diced red potatoes
½ cup diced carrot
1 pound hot-smoked salmon, flaked
2 (3.66-ounce) cans smoked clams, drained
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded smoked mozzarella cheese
2 cups half-and-half
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add onion and celery, and sauté until tender. Whisk in flour; cook 1 minute. Gradually whisk in clam juice, broth, and milk. Stir in potatoes and carrot. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in salmon, clams, cheese, and half-and-half. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Stir in salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual serving bowls. Makes 6 servings.

 Creamy Asparagus Soup with Lobster 
½ cup chopped sweet onion
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2½ cups chicken broth
3 pounds fresh asparagus, cut into pieces
1 cup peeled and chopped potato
1 cup milk
½ cup whipping cream
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups (about 10 ounces) cooked and chopped lobster
Toasted sliced almonds

Cook onion in butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in flour; gradually add chicken broth, stirring constantly. Add asparagus and potato, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Let cool slightly. Puree asparagus mixture in a blender or food processor in batches until smooth, scraping down sides, if necessary. Add milk, whipping cream, and salt, stirring well. Cook over medium heat just until thoroughly heated. Ladle soup into individual serving bowls. Top evenly with chopped lobster, and sprinkle with toasted almonds. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: Substitute cooked crab or shrimp for the lobster, if desired.

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