Have you ever tasted caldo de pescado (fish soup)? Growing up, it was not a dish we ate because my grandma was not fond of seafood and neither was my mom. The only seafood I ate growing up was tuna fish sandwiches made from tuna in a can.
Fish soup was never something that my family made. Caldo de pescado will always remind me of my uncle Wolfgang. You might recognize his name as being a family member we honor on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Every Christmas my uncle Wolfgang, my Tia Vicky, and my cousins from Colorado would visit us in El Paso. And every year the grownups would go eat dinner in Juarez at a restaurant called Villa del Mar.
I remember one year they made it a day trip and took us kids with them. We spent the day shopping at the mercado, and then afterwards we all went to the fancy seafood restaurant that we had always heard about. It was my very first seafood experience.
We had a big table for our large family and I sat next to my uncle Wolfgang. He didn’t even look at the menu. He knew exactly what he wanted to order. He ordered a dish that I had never heard about called, caldo de siete mares (seven seas soup). I remember they brought out this huge bowl of soup that was still bubbling and had creatures hanging off of the side — there were crab legs, octopus, squid, mussels, shrimp, and a fish head (eyes and all).
I kept peeking at him wondering if he was going to eat everything in that bowl and sure enough he did. I think he finally realized that I was staring at him and pulled out the fish head and said do you want me to eat the eyeballs? I’m pretty sure I had a creeped-out look on my face. I just remember before I answered he was slurping out those eyeballs. I thought it was the funniest thing ever.
My friend Alba who shared her gorditas de harina recipe was telling me that she makes a delicious caldo de pescado and shared her recipe with me. We kept it simple – only fish and shrimp.
When she unwrapped the fish from the butcher paper I asked her what kind of fish it was. And she said “bagre” – I had never heard that word, so I googled it. Bagre is catfish. She asked her butcher to filet it for her and kept the skin on. Catfish has lots of tiny bones, so if you’d like to replace it I’d recommend replacing with a white fish of your choice like tilapia or cod.
As the soup was simmering my house smelled delicious and I was surprised how simple and quick it was to make. The soup was also filled with plenty of shrimp with the shell on. The broth was so tasty and reminded me of a spicy Vietnamese pho soup and caldo de pollo combined.
Excellent for a Lenten meal this fish stock and shrimp in a chipotle-tomato broth is slightly spicy and easy to prepare. Serve soup with lime wedges, hot sauce, and saltine crackers.