Fish soup with tomatoes & star anise

Fish soup with tomatoes & star anise

Andrew Montgomery

I’ve been making variations of this soup for ages. Here, I use pollack, squid and mussels, but clams would be great instead of mussels, and some crab meat would be incredible. You can swap the pollack for any sustainable white fish: pouting, gurnard and grey mullet are all perfect.


Quantity Ingredient
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
12 onions, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 finely chopped fennel seeds
2 teaspoons paprika
1 star anise
1 small red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced, (optional)
pinch saffron
1 glass white wine
600g ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
or 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes
750ml fish stock or water
750g pollack fillets
2 small squid, sliced into rounds
300g mussels, cleaned
1 squeeze lemon juice
fennel fronds
flat-leaf parsley leaves, for sprinkling
black pepper


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan or casserole over a medium–low heat. Add the chopped fennel, and the garlic, onion and celery and cook gently, stirring often, for 12–15 minutes, until the onion is nice and soft. Add the fennel seeds, paprika, star anise, chilli (if using) and saffron, stir again, and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the white wine, bring to the boil over a high heat, then add in the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and bring back to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cook gently, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes, then pour in the fish stock or water. Simmer for a further 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile prepare the fish. Place the fillets on a board and use a sharp knife to cut the fish flesh away from the skin. Cut the flesh into large pieces of about 3–4cm each. Place the pieces in a bowl with the squid rounds and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Drop the mussels into the simmering soup. Cover the pan and cook for 2–3 minutes. Uncover, give the pan a swirl, then add the fish and squid and turn them gently through the sauce. Cover again and cook for another 3–4 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked and all the mussels are open. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened up.
  4. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as required. Stir in the remaining extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, then serve in bowls with a sprinkling of fennel fronds and parsley, and hunks of good-quality bread on the side.
River Cottage
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