In the film I Am Love, a young man’s comfort food is his mother’s fish soup. The mother, a Russian who married an Italian and who thereafter “taught myself to be Italian” cooks the soup whenever her son is home and he relays a hankering for it.
The son befriends a chef his age and the chef is occasionally invited to cook for parties at the son’s home. The mother and the chef fall in love and the mother teaches the chef her secret for making ukha, the son’s beloved fish soup. At a dinner party prepared by the chef, he serves ukha and the son puts two and two together.
The story ends in both tragedy and triumph but I won’t write any spoilers. It is, after all, the soup that I want to talk about here.
Below is a screen grab from the film. That is the ukha served at the fateful dinner party where the son discovers his mother’s adultery.
I have been unable to find an “authentic” ukha recipe online and I attribute that to the fact that I do not understand Russian and was, therefore, constrained to peruse only blogs and websites published in English. As I understand it, however, there is not really a singular formula for making the soup and it is even a point of contention as to whether ukha is a soup at all.
Some say that although ukha is made with fish broth, it is not a soup but something closer to a stew. Some claim that ukha can only be made with freshwater fish. And still some others say that “real” ukha has no vegetables at all.
So, this is not ukha, exactly. Rather, it is an ukha-inspired fish and vegetable soup.
I used two salmon heads and the bone of a talakitok (trevally) to make the broth. I also added vegetables — potato, carrot, celery and leeks. To garnish, finely sliced scallions and parsley.
Place the salmon heads and talakitok bone in a pot. Cover with water. Add the garlic. Cook over medium heat just until the salmon heads are done.
Scoop out the salmon heads without turning off the heat. Season the broth with salt and pepper. Continue simmering.
Pick the meat from the salmon heads and set aside. Return the bones to the pot. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the broth.
Pour the strained broth back into the pot. Add the vegetables. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Cut the talakitok fillets into cubes. Add to the vegetables. Simmer for five minutes. Add the salmon. Simmer for another five minutes.
To serve, ladle into bowls, sprinkle with scallions and parsley, and serve hot.