This classic seafood soup is ideal for a special first course. A last-minute addition of chopped red capsicum brings a delightful flourish of flavour, texture and extra vitamins instead of the fat in the traditional swirl of cream.
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500 g raw large prawns, without heads
1.25 litres water
80 ml dry white wine
4 slices of lemon
4 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 sprigs of fresh parsley, stalks bruised
1 fennel bulb, leaves reserved to garnish
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp margarine
1 tbsp canola oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
40 g fine white breadcrumbs, made from day-old slices of bread
Peel the prawns and set aside. Place the shells in a large saucepan. Pour in the water and wine, then add the lemon slices, peppercorns and parsley. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface during cooking.
Use a small sharp knife to make a shallow slit along the curved back of each prawn. With the tip of the knife remove the black vein and discard it. Cover and chill the prawns until required.
Allow the prawn-shell stock to cool slightly, then discard the lemon slices. Line a sieve with muslin and place it over a large bowl or measuring jug. Process the stock in a blender or food processor until the shells are finely ground, then strain through the muslin-lined sieve. Discard the residue from the shells. Rinse the saucepan.
Coarsely chop 2/3 of the fennel and finely chop the remainder of the bulb. Place the finely chopped fennel in a bowl, add the lemon juice and toss, then cover closely with plastic wrap and set aside.
Melt the margarine with the oil in the clean saucepan. Add the coarsely chopped fennel and the shallot. Cook, stirring frequently, over a medium heat for about 8 minutes or until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Stir in the breadcrumbs, paprika and stock. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat so that the soup simmers. Add the prawns and continue simmering for 3 minutes.
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove 6 prawns for a garnish. Set them aside. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste and simmer for a further 15 minutes.
Purée the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to the pan and add the finely chopped fennel and the capsicum. Reheat the soup until piping hot. Serve garnished with the reserved prawns and chopped fennel leaves.