I love a seafood broth any which way. There’s something celebratory about it that feels lush and decadent and as though care has been taken – probably because a good one involves a bit of extra effort and thought.
I remember the classic Provençale fish soup, that was always on the menu at Sydney’s Bistro Moncur, served with a rouille, which was like a bouillabaisse without the pieces of seafood. It was labour intensive and rich with flavour. And then many years later when I went Italian at Berta, there was often a brodetto on the menu – a broader term but still closely related to the same ideas. I liked making a slightly lighter broth and always used fregola.
And then there are the various Asian versions that often present more as a soup, such as laksa, which is a thing of beauty and is on high rotation as one of my current food cravings. Luxurious with coconut, thick with its base paste, fragrant with spice and an excellent hit of chilli. My all-time favourite is still from Asian Gourmet in the Adelaide Central Market.
Apart from the base flavour, the next thing to think about is the seafood you wish to use. Anything with a shell that can be used to make a stock is a good place to start, as it will give your broth extra depth. Prawns or crabs are the most obvious, or you could go with some Moreton Bay bugs or lobster if you are feeling fancy. If a stock is a prep step too far, you can cheat a little by using some anchovies at the start of cooking, or adding some kombu. Both will create extra layers of flavour. I like to add some sort of mollusc: small clams or pipis are my first choice, closely followed by mussels. Then add some fish with a firm flesh, as you want something that will hold its shape. I would suggest a white fish – pink or oily ones have no place here. Calamari or cuttlefish is a good addition, as are scallops. As always, go with what looks best. The only rule and most important thing is being aware of the cooking time. No one likes a rubbery prawn.
The version I have for you here is mostly simple and has hints of Sri Lanka with spices but also borrows a little bit of Thai with the fish sauce and lime leaves. Whether you choose to follow this recipe or merely use it as inspiration for going in a different direction is up to you. All you need is a bit of time, a good base, a fine selection of seafood and something for mopping up all the brothy goodness.