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Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Serves 4-6

In the 1800s, whitebait suppers were served at taverns in Greenwich (where the fish was netted in great numbers). A soup called water souchet, which was made with larger fish that were caught in the nets, often formed part of the meal. In traditiona­l recipes, the soup is watery with lots of parsley. I’ve added vegetables – leek, fennel and potatoes – to thicken it a little, and have enjoyed the improved result at the many whitebait feasts I’ve served over the years.

You can make this with inexpensiv­e flounder and whiting – or even fish trimmings, to make a delicious white fish soup.


– 60g butter

– 1 leek, trimmed, roughly chopped and washed

– 1 small onion, roughly


– ½ small head of

fennel, thinly sliced

– 2 garlic cloves,

roughly chopped

– 250g floury potatoes,

peeled and chopped

– 1kg whole whiting, or other good-value small white fish, chopped into

2-3 pieces

– 4-5 tbsp chopped parsley leaves, stalks reserved for the stock

– 100ml white wine

– 2 litres fish stock


Melt the butter in a large, thick-bottomed pan and cook the leek, onion, fennel and garlic on a low heat with a lid on for 4-5 minutes.

Add the potatoes, fish, parsley stalks, wine and stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove the meatiest bits of fish, put to one side and leave to cool. Meanwhile continue to simmer the soup for 45 minutes, stirring every so often.

Ladle out about one third of the soup, bones, vegetables and all, and blend this until smooth in a liquidiser. Add this back to the soup and return to the heat for another 10 minutes, then strain through a medium-meshed sieve, pushing the liquid through with the back of a ladle and discarding the debris.

Remove any bones from the fish pieces you reserved from the pan earlier and add the chunks of fish back to the soup along with the chopped parsley leaves. Simmer for a couple of minutes just to warm the fish pieces, seasoning again if necessary.

Serve with crusty or toasted bread.

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