Made with chunks of firm white fish and potatoes, plus tomatoes, bell peppers, white wine, and aromatics, chupín de pescado (or el chupín, as it’s also known) is an Argentinian fish stew that’s typical of the north-western region of Rios.
What is the origin of chupín de pescado?
Chupín comes from the Ligurian dialect word, ciuppin, meaning, “chopped into pieces”. Pescado is the Spanish word for fish.
Similar to the Provençal soupe de poisson aka bouillabaisse, ciuppin is a classic puréed fish soup from Genova’s Riviera di Levante. It’s almost always made at home by women, as opposed to cacciucco, which is a seafood stew made by fishermen aboard their boats or at the harborside.
The fish used for ciuppin is deemed to have a lower market value, and is often spiny bycatch, such as scorpionfish. For this reason, once it’s cooked, the soup is pushed through a sieve or a food mill in order to remove the bones and spines. It’s then served in bowls over hot toasted bread.
Chupín, on the other hand, is a chunky stew, and the fish is left as large pieces. Sliced potatoes are used instead of toast.
Large numbers of Italians began to emigrate to Argentina in 1857, and continued until 1940, by which time, they accounted for 45% of the people. Today, Argentine-Italians make up the largest modern ethnic group in the country, with more than 60% of the population having Italian ancestry. Arguably, the most famous Argentinian of Italian descent is Pope Frances.
Italian cuisine in Argentina
The Italians, particularly those from Genova, brought much of their cuisine with them to Argentina. This is evident in many of the country’s dishes to this day.
The Argentine diet is very similar to that of the Mediterranean, so while meat may feature heavily, there’s also a lot of pasta, seafood, ice cream, and pizza. The latter includes fugazza, which is derived from focaccia xeneise (Genovese focaccia), to which cheese is added.
Fainá, a type of flatbread made with chickpea flour, is another Italian import, and is a popular street food in Genova. Fainâ is the name in Genovese dialect, while in Italian it’s called farinata, and in France, it is socca.
Milanesa, made from fried breaded beef cutlet, is another popular Italian-influenced dish, and a variation of cotoletta alla milanese.
Pastafrola, Argentina’s famous jam tart, is also originally from Italy, where it’s called pasta frolla or crostata. In Argentina, pastafrola is usually accompanied by mate (a herbal tea).
What fish to use for chupín de pescado
Traditionally, any firm-fleshed white fish with little bone is used. Although catfish such as surubí or patí are typical, corvina (aka croaker or drum) is also popular. It they are not available, however, other firm white fish such as cod, pollock, or large sea bass is ideal. Oily fish is not recommended.
The fish is usually cut into large chunks, fillets, or into steaks around an inch (2,5 cm) thick.
Fresh vs. frozen fish
While frozen fish will work for el chupín, fresh is preferable as it tends to be firmer, and holds together better during cooking. Frozen fish must be fully thawed before using. Once thawed, rinse and dry with a clean tea cloth or paper towels.
How to prepare a fresh fish
Whole fresh fish must be prepared before use, especially if it has not been cleaned.
Remove the scales by holding a knife perpendicular to the body of the fish, and scraping upward toward the head from the tail.
Cut off the fins and rays, and discard. A sturdy pair of scissors is best for this. Remove the head by cutting vertically from the spine to the belly, just behind the pectoral fin. For larger fish, it’s best to cut either side of the fish, and then exert an amount of pressure on the spine in order to break it. Set the head aside, as this may be used for stock.
On the underside of the fish, close to the anal fin, there is a small hole (called the vent). Insert the point of a very sharp knife, and carefully cut into the flesh, all the way up to the head end. Remove the innards and the spinal muscle, and discard.
Run the point of the knife along the spine to release the blood. Thoroughly rinse the fish under cold running water, ensuring all traces of innards and blood have been removed. Pat dry.
To fillet the fish, starting at the head end, make an incision on one side, close to the spine. Work the knife in enough to be able to lift the flesh with your fingers. Hold the flesh as you use the knife to ease it away from the spine and ribs. Roughly halfway down, insert the flat of the blade between the flesh and the bones, and gently slide it down toward the tail. Repeat for the other side. Set aside the spine. After a final rinse and dry, the fillets are ready to use.
Use the head and spine to make broth. Use scissors to remove the gills from the head. Leaving them in will make the stock bitter. Remove the brain, and any other debris, and rinse well under cold running water, in order to have a clean and empty fish head.
Place the fish head and spine into a large stockpot or pan, along with a handful of chopped parsley and a few bruised peppercorns and (optional) juniper berries. Add a medium-sized carrot and onion (both quartered), and two halved celery stalks.
Add enough water to cover everything, put a lid on the pan, and over a medium heat, bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours.
Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool for an hour. Using a colander, carefully drain into another large pan or bowl. Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or piece of muslin to remove any scum.
The broth can now either be used as is, or concentrated by reducing to a glace or demi-glace. To do this, pour the broth into a wide, shallow pan, such as a large skillet, and simmer until reduced. The longer it’s reduced, the thicker the glace will be. To freeze the broth in convenient portions, reduce to a thick glace, and freeze in ice cube trays.
Tips for making chupín de pescado
Any type of potato will work but waxy ones hold up better, and are less likely to make the broth starchy. To ensure they cook properly, the potato slices should be about ¼ inch (7 mm) thick.
Instead of homemade fish broth, small pots of concentrated fish stock are available in most supermarkets. Some may sell demi-glace broth in pouches.
If neither are available, use vegetable broth instead. Don’t use chicken or meat broth because the flavor is too strong.
Smaller pieces of fish may be used. Simply join several together with toothpicks. Similarly, if only small fillets are available, they may be rolled up, and secured with a toothpick. Chupín de pescado should contain large chunks of fish.
- 1 lb firm white fish (sea bass, hake, catfish), cut into large pieces or rolled and secured with a cocktail stick
- 1 lemon (juice only)
- Sea salt
- Black pepper , freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion , finely sliced
- 1 large red bell pepper , julienned
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 large tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced
- 4 tablespoons tomato purée
- 1 cup fish broth
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 lb potatoes , peeled and cut into ¼ inch (7mm) slices
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Brush the fish with lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and set aside for an hour in the refrigerator.
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over a medium heat.
- Fry the onion, garlic and red pepper for 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the white wine, and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, mix well, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Mix in the tomato purée, fish broth, and paprika.
- Add the potatoes, stir well, cover with a lid, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
- If the fish fillets are small, roll up each piece, and fix with a toothpick.
- Place the fish on top of the stew, cover again, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, uncover and sprinkle with parsley, then cover again for 3 minutes before serving.