Sing Me Spanish Mackerel

7 Dec

Apologies to fans of the poppiest band in the world and to those who appreciate truth in advertising.

Brooklyn Heights

I am a huge (huge!) fan of the New Pornographers. After years in the music industry, listening to all my friends and co-workers babbling incessantly about them, it was Isaac who actually got me to sit down and listen to them. One go round with Twin Cinema and I was a goner. The goofy lyrics, impossibly catchy guitar hooks and Neko‘s voice are a power pop lover’s triple threat.

(Wow, looking back at that last sentence makes me realize why I failed as music writer at my college newspaper.)

Brooklyn Heights, The Promenade

Whenever I’m in a bad mood at work, I’ll switch over to my New Pornographers station on Pandora. It’s really hard to be pissed off at your co-workers when you’re chair dancing in your cubicle to songs like “Use It,” “Letter From An Occupant,” and especially, “Sing Me Spanish Techno.” It’s from this last song that I’ve borrowed the title for this post.

You see, the idea of Spanish techno is funny already. I mean, I used to like techno, a lot. American techno was okay, the Brits got it right from time to time, but it was the French and the Germans that made the good stuff. Never the Spanish.

Brooklyn Heights, The Promenade

But what’s even funnier is the idea of a song about Spanish mackerel. And when this song gets stuck in my head (which it does frequently, I’m very susceptible to ohrwurms) I tend to half-hum/half-sing it aloud, and when I do, I change the lyrics to “Sing Me Spanish Mackerel.” It tickles the hell out of me and confuses the bejezus out of anyone within ear shot. That makes it even funnier.

The point I’m trying to make is that I made a soup this weekend that makes me as happy as listening to the perfect New Pornographers song during a hellacious commute home after a long day of work. They both make me do a goofy little dance. And while the soup may be Spanish in origin, it contains no mackerel (I suppose it could, but it doesn’t). That’s where that whole truth in advertising thing comes in.

Brooklyn Heights Mews

I initially conceived of it one day late last week while relaxing on the couch with a glass of good red wine. Isaac was sitting at the computer and asked what I wanted to cook this weekend. I said I had no idea and asked him to pass me a few cookbooks for inspiration. I don’t remember which book or recipe it was that lit the soupy fire, but I started formulating a potage of sorts of squid and scallops and shrimp in a saffron-y broth, kind of like a bouillabaisse, but with a little extra something.

The very next day, while I was attempting, in vain as usual, to keep up with all the blogs I love to read (see! even if I’m not leaving comments, I’m still reading!) I stopped by Ximena’s Lobstersquad where she had posted this recipe for Cazuela. It was exactly what I was looking for. Kind of.


There are three main points to consider when making Cazuela, as I see it, based on Ximena’s instructions:

  1. Feel free to adapt at will based on local ingredients and seasonality.
  2. Use a sofrito (something I love doing but often forget to do).
  3. Let the fishies have their due. As Ximena says, “The veg is again a matter of taste, but keep it in the range of asparagus, artichokes, spinach, that sort of thing. Not too many, this is a Spanish dish after all, it won’t do to make it all green. “

With those points as my guiding principals, I adapted the already adapted recipe and bent it to my will.


And oh boy, let me tell you one thing, this soup rocks.

Isaac and I had the leftovers for dinner again last night, and there is something so special about this soup. Neither of us can put our finger on what it is though. There isn’t a single ingredient that stands up and says, “Look at me! I’m the star!” It’s the New Pornographers of soups: the tomatoes are Neko, the shellfish are A.C. Newman and the spices are Dan Bejar.

(Ugh. Once again reminded by that last sentence that I should leave the music writing to the professionals!)

It definitely benefits from a day in the fridge, but, who wants to wait. For optimal deliciousness, enjoyment and happiness; bake the perfect loaf of kneaded no-knead bread, make this soup, download Challengers and combine.

Just try to keep the chair dancing to a minimum while you’re eating. No one likes soup stains on their shirt.


Editor’s Note: I’d like to draw everyones attention to a comment I received yesterday from Lou at Hangar One. Some of you may remember that on our trip to San Francisco in August I was very disapointed by an attempted, and aborted, trip to visit the Hangar One distillery. Apparently someone brought this post to the Hangar One guys’ attention and they left me this nice comment yesterday.

I think it’s an incredibly classy move and I appreciate the heck out of them taking the time to write to me and explain what was going on that day.

So lets all raise a glass to Lou and his team. Thanks again guys. It means a ton to me that you took the time to write, and you can be damn sure I’ll be taking you up on your offer of a tour and a tasting when I’m next in San Fran.

And remember, anyone willing to go to Alameda (where they film a lot of Mythbusters segments I believe!) can go visit the distillery. Just make sure you go Wednesday-Saturday from 12-7 or on Sunday from 12-6.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Challengers Cazuela.

Challengers Cazuela

prep time: 45 minutes ~ cooking time: 2 hours

  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Onions, chopped
  • 2 Italian Roaster Peppers, chopped
  • 12 Sun Dried Tomatoes, Chopped
  • A lot of Garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 c. Red Wine
  • 1 1/2 c. Chicken Stock
  • 8 c. Tomato Purée + 2 c. Water
  • 2 pieces of Orange Peel, no white, the size of a stick of gum
  • a good pinch of Saffron
  • a good pinch of Paprika
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 bag of Trader Joe’s frozen Artichoke Hearts
  • 6 Clams per person, purged and scrubbed
  • 6 Shrimp per person, shell removed and deveined
  • 1/4 lb of Squid per person, cut into rings
  • 6 Scallops per person, cut into bite-sized pieces if large
  • 1 bunch of washed Arugula, torn into bite sized pieces
  • Pesto (homemade if you’ve got it)

Heat a healthy glug of olive oil in a large stock or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook a few minutes, add the peppers and cook a few minutes more. Add the sun dried tomatoes and the garlic and cook until everything has softened so much that it’s hard to tell what’s what. This is your sofrito.

Add the wine and cook until it nearly disappears. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes and the water and if your tomatoes are frozen in a giant block like mine were, cover the pot and cook until everything comes up to a boil.

Once the soup is burbling away add the orange peel, saffron and paprika. Season lightly with salt & pepper. Add the frozen artichoke hearts. Allow to cook at a low simmer for at least an hour or longer. The soup could hold at this point for a few hours as long as you don’t let the tomatoes get too concentrated. Keep adding water if the soup gets too thick.

Just before serving bring the soup up to a rolicking boil and add the clams. Let them cook 5-7 minutes then add the shrimp. Once they’re rosy pink and the clams have opened add the squid, scallops and arugula. Turn off the heat. Season one last time with salt & pepper and ladle into bowls.

Serve the soup with a drizzle of pesto and a big hunk of delicious bread on the side. Very good red wine is absolutley essential to this dish. White wine just wouldn’t do. Enjoy!

11 Responses to “Sing Me Spanish Mackerel”

  1. Jennifer Hess December 7, 2007 at 12:53 pm #

    Eeeeeeee! When I saw the title of your post I literally squealed out loud! And now I will have that song in my head all day (with alternate lyrics, of course), and also, I want this soup. Now, please. :)

  2. Paula from Only Cookware December 7, 2007 at 11:02 pm #

    Well I have never heard of New Pornographers so I went over to Amazon to have a listen. They are quite good – they just reminded me a bit of Franz Ferdinand. I love that band.

  3. Paula December 8, 2007 at 9:04 am #

    your soup looks awesome! I want a bite right now, please! Your post gave me a chuckle:)!!

  4. mary December 8, 2007 at 1:38 pm #

    Laughing all the way through this one, but I’m going to take the soup recipe seriously and make some this week. Have you tried the Trader Joe’s frozen seafood medley? It’s shrimp, scallops and calamari already cleaned, shelled, cut, etc.; the only thing I don’t like is that they don’t have the calamari tentacles, which I love, but it’s so easy to use, I forgive them.

  5. ann December 8, 2007 at 2:46 pm #

    Jen — they say the best way to get rid of an ohrwurm is to pass it along to someone else ;-)

    Paula — I bet they do! I have a feeling the two have influenced each other over the years. They’re both awesome, but I think I love the Pornographers best, if only for Neko.

    Other Paula — I’m glad I gave you a chuckle, my day is now complete ;-)

    Mary — No i haven’t tried that yet, nor even noticed it. I’ll have to watch out for it the next time I’m at TJs. But, like you, I love the tentacles.

    Have you ever had the “tentacle salad” at a Malaysian restaurant? I tried it for the first time a few weekends ago (#18 on the menu) and it is awesome! The menu called it “fried squid” but when it came out it was just a huge pile of tentacles, fried with no batter so that they’re crispy and kind of tough like jerky and then smothered in a sweet and spicy sauce. It’s to die for good if you’re a tentacle lover!

    I’m glad I made you laugh too. I was chair dancing the entire time I wrote the post, so it brought me joy as well :-)

  6. Ann December 9, 2007 at 2:31 pm #

    We love the New Pornogrphers…. but are currently obsessed with Elbow. :-)

    I have that soup on my must-try list, too… (you know, I need a blog JUST for other blog recipes I have sworn to myself I will try. The list is getting kinda long) … and now after reading about it here I will bump it up the list.

  7. lobstersquad December 10, 2007 at 3:15 am #

    that´s so cool. Your cazuela is amazing, far better than mine, let me say. I cheat all the time, but this long simmered beauty, with all those beautiful fish(es?) is to die for.
    Orange peel a must for me next time.

  8. ann December 10, 2007 at 9:11 am #

    Ann — Elbow and I go way back (that’s such an odd statement to make!) I used to work for their record label in the states and they were hands down my favorite band to hang out with. They were so much more fun than you might suspect given their slightly gloomy songs.

    Cast of Thousands will forever be related to Jose Saramago’s The Cave. I read the whole book while listening to Cast of Thousands and now I can’t hear those songs without thinking of the weird Platonic story…

    I use to keep track of other blogs’ recipes. It’s very useful. You can even search and sort them into categories and make yourself a little cookbook.

    Lobstersquad — Awh, thanks! That’s so kind! Oh, and the one thing I didn’t reveal in the original post is that I didn’t come up with the orange peel on my own. I had help. From Nigel Slater. Well, not really from him, from one of his books, but you know what I mean!

  9. K December 10, 2007 at 2:35 pm #

    I love the second picture of the cazuela with the little squidy-guy just peeking out up top. That did me in. Now I really HAVE to try your recipe. :)

  10. s'kat December 11, 2007 at 10:20 am #

    This looks so good! It just got chill again today (don’t worry, it will be 80 again tomorrow). As the lone seafood lover in the household, I’m going to have to remember that frozen bag of TJ goodies next time!

    Two things: delicious is the only way I’m able to keep track of anything on the internet, and I LOVE Spoon… with the exception of their newest album. The early ones were so much more enticing. How cool that you actually knew them!

  11. ann December 11, 2007 at 10:12 pm #

    K — I went out on a limb with that one, I loved it too. I’m glad someone else did as well.

    S’kat — hehe, it’s Elbow I used to work with, not Spoon, but! I love Spoon nearly as much. I do love the new album, though I agree with you, the older ones are much, much better. That tip from Mary’s great isn’t it?

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