It was a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon. Over coffee that morning, I’d decided to use the three jars of frozen lobster stock I’d made a few months earlier to make seafood soup for dinner. This is one of our favorite dishes. There are so many different directions to take a seafood soup. It can be tomato based or cream based, thin and soupy or thick like a stew, spicy or mild. It’s a blank canvas. My plan was to see what looked good at the market and take it from there.
In New England, we have extraordinary access to fresh, beautiful seafood. When I got to the grocery store in the morning, the folks at the seafood counter were just unloading that day’s delivery. The hake was fresh, so I bought a pound. Hake is a white, meaty fish like cod or pollack, but it has a sweeter, more delicate flavor. Bay scallops were on sale and they looked lovely, I bought half a pound. The shrimp had been previously frozen, but they’d just come in that morning, so I added half a pound to my cart. And finally, I bought a small container of shucked oysters. I already had some cream in the fridge, so I knew what direction I was heading.
For my mirepoix, I decided to experiment with some different ingredients. Rather than white or yellow onion, I opted for leeks. Instead of celery, I went for fennel. And I replaced the carrots with diced butternut squash. As I was chopping the leeks, I nicked the end of my pinky and I thought to myself “better be careful, I just sharpened that knife.” It was a moment of foreboding that I’d regret not paying closer attention to.
I chopped the leeks, fennel and squash and started sautéing them in bacon fat. I added some crushed garlic, sally and peppy, a couple of small, diced potatoes and a couple of quartered and chopped zucchini. When the veggies were starting to get soft, I added a bottle of clam juice, the juice and zest of one lemon, a couple of bay leaves and all the lobster stock. I walked away for a little while to allow my developing creation to come up to the boil.
When I came back half an hour later, the soup was at a rolling boil and all the veggies had gotten soft. I turned the heat down to low, added a bit of heavy cream and started prepping the final ingredients, the seafood and fresh herbs. I shelled the shrimp, made sure the scallops were cleaned of their tough little muscles and cut the hake into one-inch cubes. I minced a big handful of fresh dill and set it aside. I added the hake pieces to the soup and as I was mincing the parsley, it happened.
I felt a strong resistance against my left index fingernail and knew I’d cut myself. I will spare you the gore of what actually happened to my finger, but suffice to say that I’d cut myself badly, worse than any kitchen injury I’ve ever sustained. Before it started bleeding, I whirled over to the sink and stuck it under cold running water. I screamed for my husband Jason to come quickly. And then I freaked out.
Jason got me calmed down enough to sit at the dining room table. But all I could think about was finishing the soup! Through my tears, I directed him to turn the heat off, add the final seafood and the parsley and dill. The soup was done and now I could focus on my finger.
While I applied pressure to stop the bleeding, Jason went on line to do some hasty research. We decided to forego a trip to the emergency room and handle the situation with at-home care. We got a temporary bandage on my finger and he went to the pharmacy to get some extra wound care supplies. While he was gone, I tasted the soup. AMAZING!!!
By the time Jason returned, the bleeding had stopped. We put a respectable bandage on my finger and sat down to dinner. I served the seafood soup with thick slices of toasted brioche drizzled with good olive oil. It was heavenly. I learned a lesson that day about being careful in the kitchen. The next time I’m handling sharp knives, high heat and boiling liquids, I’ll be on my toes….and extra careful with my fingers.