I really love this seafood soup, and I will be demanding on finding the key ingredients.
Vital for making this soup is to have (uncooked) medium sized or large shrimp shells (or other crustacean shells) available. Use some clams or mussels and at the least one type of fatty fish. Also salmon bones or a salmon head provide taste to the broth. (Funny enough, the salmon head was provided free in the New York suburbs when buying other fish, but in Asia you pay more for the head than for a fillet!).

Origin of this Italian seafood soup

My wife and I lived 4 years just north of New York City and had the opportunity to visit regularly a musical or play on Broadway in the Big Apple. It was only a few years back that we returned. Before watching an off-Broadway play we had dinner at an amazing Italian fish restaurant. It is the rich fish soup we had and some hints from their chef with Italian ancestors that this recipe is inspired by.

The art of making Italian seafood soup

The shrimp shells impair a delicate taste to the soup. Yet the combination of the shrimp and the salmon bones give the broth a very balanced taste. Use a piece of mackerel or other local fatty fish. Fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies, capelin) greatly improve the richness of this soup.
There are no external thickeners in this soup and most (healthy) fat and proteins come from the fish! Eat the soup as an appetizer or even as a main meal, when served with crusty bread.
In the fridge this soup will hold for 3 days and reaches its maximum after one full day.

Special equipment

  • strainer
Italian fish soup from the Big Apple: ©️ Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh

Italian seafood soup from the Big Apple

Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Course Appetizer, Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12


Ingredients for making the basic broth

  • 8.8 oz (250 g) shrimp peels, tails and cleaned heads use 1 lb 1.6 oz (500 g) whole fresh or frozen uncooked shrimps
  • 1 medium brown onion
  • 1 white of a leek
  • 1 stick of cellery
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 bunch parsley stems the leaves can be used for other dishes or can be washed, cut and frozen
  • 2.47 oz (70 g) tomato concentrate
  • 0.35 oz (10 g) small dried fish (optional)
  • 0.70 oz (20 g) small dried scallops (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary or a fresh twig
  • 1/2 tsp thyme or a fresh twig
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp anice liquor (Pernod, raki, uzo, Ricard)
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1 bay leave
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 5.5 cups (1.3 liter) purified water

Ingredients to make the vegetable thickener

  • 1 mid sized carrot
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2.5 cups (600 ml) of basic fish broth (see above)

Ingredients to make the soup

  • 5-7 oz (150 - 200 g) of mackerel(fresh or frozen) non-smoked
  • 14 oz (300 g) salmon bones salmon head is optional
  • 7 oz (200 g) cleaned squid (one medium sized fresh)
  • 14 oz (400 g) clams or mussels
  • 9 oz (250 g) white fish fillet hake, cod, halibut, yellow fish etc
  • pinch of pepper
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • all basic broth that is left
  • all vegetable thickener


Instruction to make the basic broth

  • Peel the fresh or defrosted shrimp: twist the head off and set aside, peel the rest and set aside as well (separately). This job could be done ahead of time, if one is willing to freeze the peels, tails and heads (separately) until the time the soup is made
    For larger shrimp devein them by cutting with a sharp knife over the length and using a tooth pick. Set the shrimps aside, or use them for another dish (you can freeze them when bought fresh)
    Clean the heads under rinsing water and poke with your finger or a chopstick in the head, to take out the dirt. After cleaning set the heads aside
  • Clean the squid (grab and pull the head and while keeping the body with your other hand in place. Use the arms and tentacles, but discard the head and the intestines. Some cooks like to use the ink sack for the coloration of other foods Remove the chitin back bone. Some like to eat the eggs or semen if it is carried and if so, fry it separately with a little butter or oil. It is nutritious with a nice taste. It is not part of this soup recipe. Scratch the skin and peel the darker (inky) top layer, so that a white skin remains. Cut in 1/3 inch (1 cm) by 1/6 inch (0.5 cm) pieces
  • Rinse the clams or mussels by placing them in a solution of 35 g salt per liter (the salinity of sea water) for 2 hours. The clams or mussels will start to clean themselves. (Most mussels that are packaged fresh have already been cleaned)
  • Peel the onion and chop coarsely. Set aside 
  • Cut up the white of the leek coarsely. Then clean in water, drain and set aside
  • Clean and cut up the celery stick coursely and set aside
  • Peel a large tomato (2 min in boiling hot water and rinsed with cold) and cut coarsely and set aside
  • Prepare 70 g of tomato concentrate and set aside
  • Clean the parsley stems and set aside
  • Now heat up a large soup pan, add the olive oil and add the shrimp shells, heads and tails and start whisking them around on high fire. The color will change to orange in a few minutes
  • Continue on medium to high fire for 2 minutes and then add the chopped onion, after 1 minute the chopped leek, then the parsley stems, the celery, the tomato and the tomato paste and the bay leave, each with 30 seconds or a minute in between
  • Then add the anise liquor and the white wine. Stir and scrap the bottom of the pan (1 minute)
  • Add 1.3 liter water with one teaspoon of sea salt. Add the thyme and rosemary. I usually add some 10 small dried scallops or dried little fish, but this is optional
  • Bring to the boiling point, and then simmer for 20-25 minutes 
  • Strain the shrimp shells and vegetables and thoroughly press out the mixture with a spatula. Discard the pressed out cake. Use the strained basic broth.

Instruction to make the vegetable thickener

  • You can do this at the same time as following the instructions for making the soup, (here below) by using two separate pans.
    In a pan add the olive oil and sweat the sliced garlic and chopped carrot for a few minutes
  • Then add some 600 ml of the basic fish broth. bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes
  • Thereafter mash the mixture using an immersion blender. The mixture will become thick
  • Add this to the remaining basic fish broth.

Instruction to make the soup

  • Add to the basic broth the salmon bones and the piece of mackerel and simmer for 20 minutes (not longer as you may lose separated bones in the soup)
  • After 20 minutes take the mackerel and the salmon skeleton out with a slotted spoon
  • Separately remove the orange or pink meat from the salmon bones. Discard the jelly type white parts and the bones. Reserve the salmon (scrap) meat. Also remove the mackerel bones. Reserve the mackerel meat
  • Then add the salmon scrap, the mackerel fish meat (without the bones) and the sliced squid to the broth. Heat up. Add the cleaned or rinsed mussels or clams 1). Add further salt, thyme and pepper to taste
  • Then bring to a very slow simmer for 10 min 
  • Switch off the fire and let it stand for a few hours if time allows
  • 5 minutes before serving add the pieces of white fish to the simmering broth and serve. The soup will further improve in taste when it has been allowed to stand overnight in a refrigerator.


Method: simmering
Food allergy & intolerance information: fish and shell fish
Keyword italian, seafood soup


  1. When using fresh clams, remember these may contain up to 30% of their gross weight in sea water. I always let the clams clean them selves for 1-3 hrs using ambient water with 3.5% salt at the approximate salinity of sea water. So adding the clams will also increase the salt load. Therefore add salt only later to taste. Discard clams or mussels that do not open after heating.
  2. The soup can be frozen as is and used later by simply thawing it in the refrigerator and then re-heating it.
  3. Always try to use fresh fish, clams and shrimps to make this seafood soup, or use frozen fish if the fish was frozen quickly while fresh.
  4. Serve with a slice of (toasted) ciabatta!

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