Hearty Greek fish soup to warm your soul

Greek island of Milos

On my first visit to the Greek island of Milos (pictured above and below)  it didn’t look like this. Winter gales whipped across the steep hillsides, a heavy grey sky threatened rain and we were wearing coats, boots, scarves and gloves. Inside as well. Because the house my family and friends were staying in was a summer house. No windows in most rooms, just shutters and the wind howled like a banshee through the cracks.

Milos looking perfect during the summer
Milos looking perfect during the summer

Milos, in the Cyclades group of islands, is in the mid to southern Aegean and the shape of a horseshoe, which means fabulously sheltered bays for swimming. About 5,000 full-time residents live on the island which features whitewashed villages in the best examples of Cycladic traditional architecture.

We braved a walk around the main port of Adamantas where the wind flung salt spray into our faces and we soon retreated indoors to a small taverna/coffee shop with six tables and no menu, where you ate what the cook decided. As it was early March and Lent – the period of fasting before Greek Easter where the devout (and those wishing to appear devout) didn’t eat meat for 40 days – I was pretty sure it would be fish.

And wow, take me to a place with no menu any time.

We ate a hearty, steaming fish soup, the large bowls piled with vegetables, and meltingly tender chunks which included barbounia (red mullet) and tiny clams. All caught locally that morning. I’ve never forgotten how rich and satisfying it was. It was served of course with lots of crusty bread, a dry local white wine, and a plate of glossy black Greek olives. Here is my (slightly Australian-ized) version of this Greek fish soup, flavoured with warm memories of that icy day. It’s so robust it’s more like a stew, and I admit being influenced by the gorgeous French Provencal bouillabaisse, rather than using an egg and lemon sauce Greek style. I prefer salmon heads to make the stock. They really have the best flavour.

Hearty Greek fish soup

Greek style fish soup for a winter’s day

2 large fish heads (with as much flesh on as possible)
12 large fresh prawns
6 fresh mussels
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove finely chopped garlic
6 cups of water
1 bay leaf
2 tsp smoked paprika (or sweet paprika)
4 tomatoes chopped into quarters
4 potatoes, peeled, chopped into chunks and boiled
2 carrots, peeled, chopped and boiled
3 tbsp Greek olive oil
1 tbsp fresh chopped dill
2 tbsp plain flour
3 tbsp milk
salt and pepper to taste

  • Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan, add the washed fish heads and the bay leaf  (you can also use the prawn heads), and simmer for an hour with the lid on the pot, then drain the stock, reserve pieces of cooked fish flesh and discard the bay leaf and remainder of the fish.
  • Heat oil in a frypan and add the onion and garlic, stirring on a medium heat until the onion has sweated. Add the smoked paprika and the tomatoes, and cook for several minutes, adding a little salt to taste, but don’t stir too much as you want the tomatoes to keep their shape.
  • Bring the fish stock back to the stove in the large pot, add the tomato and onion mixture and stir thoroughly, keeping the heat on simmer. Put the lid on the pot and leave for 10 minutes on low.
  • Meanwhile prepare the potatoes and carrots and cook them separately in salted water.
  • De-beard the mussels and remove the heads of the prawns, if you haven’t used them for the stock. You can peel the prawn tails, but I find the shell softens so much with cooking that I leave them on. Rinse well.
  • Mix the flour and milk together well with a little of the broth, so there are no lumps. With a wooden spoon add this gradually to the soup pot and combine thoroughly.
  • Add the seafood and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. Salt to taste and add a little pepper of your choice.
  • Add the dry white wine, if you’re using it at all.
  • Drain the potatoes and carrots.
  • In the soup bowls place a pile of carrots and potatoes in the centre, then ladle the soup over the top, making sure everyone has two prawns and a mussel.
  • Sprinkle a little freshly chopped dill (or Mediterranean parsley) over the top and a squeeze of  lemon juice just before serving.
  • Serve with lots of crusty bread, a plate of Greek olives on the side, and a glass of your favourite drop.
  • Serves six, or four very hungry people.
  • Kali orexi!

P.S. I made this soup for the blog on a very steamy night in Sydney, and turned the air-conditioning on to get in the mood…

Recipe copyright: Heather Tyler

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