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From the gastronaughty recipe files: sopa de mariscos

It goes without saying that I spend most of my days and nights in restaurants -- which has been the story of my life for the past fifteen years or so, ever since I began writing about food. But truth be told, cooking is my therapeutic outlet; the kitchen, my security blanket. I'm most at home in my kitchen, hunched over the burners, cooking.

And like a lot of the chefs who I interview each week, I learned how to cook (baking, however, is not my forte) when I was really young, mainly because my mom, who has a kitchen that requires roller skates to get from one end to the other, is a stupid good cook. I did some time in restaurants -- in the kitchen, on the floor, and as a PR girl -- but I learned how to cook from my mom. And this weekend, while my son slumbered at a friend's house, and my other half pounded pints of Tetley's across the pond, I invited a friend to my house for dinner and made one of the dishes that I grew up eating: sopa de mariscos.

While it's a time consuming recipe -- especially if you make your own fish stock, which I highly recommend that you do -- it's totally worth the effort. The fish heads, frames and bones are readily available at Whole Foods, H Mart, and several other Asian markets around Denver. Everything else is easily obtainable at any market, although make sure you get your seafood from a good fish monger.

This recipe feeds six (generously), so invite a few friends to share.

Sopa de Mariscos Serves six

Chile-tomato sauce

Two 28-ounce cans whole Italian plum tomatoes 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups white onions, chopped 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 3 bay leaves 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano 2 1/2 teaspoons crushed red chile flakes (I also used crushed aleppo chile flakes, available at the Savory Spice Shop) 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground, using a mortar and pestle Salt to taste

1. Using a food processor or blender, pulse half the tomatoes (and their juice) until coarsely pureed; leave the remaining tomatoes whole. Set tomatoes aside. 2. Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the garlic and onions until the onions become translucent. 3. Add the bay leaves, oregano, crushed red chile flakes, cumin and tomatoes, and stir. 4. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, for at least two hours. 5. Salt to taste 6. Let the sauce cool. (Sauce will keep up to five days in the refrigerator.)

Fish stock

1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 cups medium white onions, chopped 4 stalks celery, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 1 large head garlic, unpeeled and sliced horizontally down the middle 3 bay leaves 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, including stems, chopped 2 tablespoons white peppercorns 1 teaspoon dried oregano, or four sprigs fresh oregano 2 tablespoons whole allspice 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds 1 fish head and 3 to 4 pounds of frames and bones, rinsed clean of any blood (I used bass, halibut and rockfish) 2 1/2 cups white wine 16 cups hot water Kosher or sea salt to taste

1. Heat the oil in a heavy 7- to 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, and saute the onions, celery, carrots and garlic for about eight minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. 2. Add the bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns, oregano, allspice and coriander seeds. 3. Add the fish head and bones, and pour the wine on top. Cover the pot and let the bones sweat for about 15 minutes, or until they've turned white. 4. Add enough water to cover the bones, stir and bring the pot to a high simmer. Simmer for ten minutes, uncovered, and then skim off any foam that rises to the top, being careful not to take any herbs, vegetables or spices with it. 5. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for two hours. 6. Remove the stockpot from the stove and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with a cheesecloth into a container. 7. Season with salt. Chill immediately if you're not going to to use it within an hour or so.

For the Sopa de Mariscos


1/3 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups white onions, slivered Four garlic cloves, peeled and minced 3 1/2 cups fish stock (recipe above) 1 pound mussels, rinsed, scrubbed and debearded 1 pound Manilla clams, rinsed and scrubbed 3 to 4 heaped tablespoons chipotles en adobo, pureed Four cups chile-tomato sauce (recipe above) 1 pound oysters, shucked 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, shells removed 1 pound squid, including tentacles, cleaned and bodies cut into rings 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped Juice of one large lime 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt 2 cups white rice, cooked

Accompaniments: Sliced radishes, cubed avocado, lime wedges and cilantro sprigs

1. Heat the oil in a heavy stockpot over medium heat, and saute the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, or until softened. 2. Add fish stock. 3. Add clams and mussels, and simmer until they open. (Discard any that don't.) 4. Reduce heat to low, and add chipotle chile puree, chile-tomato sauce, oysters, shrimp and squid rings and tentacles. 5. Simmer, covered, for four minutes. 6. Add cilantro, fresh lime juice and salt. 6. Serve the soup in individual bowls over a mound of rice with accompaniments.

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