Seafood Broth (with transformational powers)

This seafood broth was the opening course of the Garden of Alchemy Dinner representing the transformational power of the element of water. Guests were served a tea cup with butterfly pea blossoms and a fish fashioned out of a green chili pepper and lime leaves inside. There was a sticky Thai rice ball with seaweed and a slice of lime on the saucer.

The servers poured steaming hot seafood broth into the tea cups. As the guests stirred the mixture, the clear golden broth interacted with the butterfly blossoms and turned a teal color. Then, they added lime and the color of the broth transformed again to mauve.

Butterfly pea blossoms naturally interact with the PH of the liquid they are steeped in and are used to create colorful desserts and drinks in Southeast Asia. The latin name is Clitoria Tiernatea because the flower resembles the female anatomy and it is considered an aphrodisiac. So basically, it was the perfect ingredient for an event made for and by women.

photo by Celina Odeh

The butterfly pea blossoms will turn plain water a bright blue and will transform to a fushia color with the addition of acid, such as lemon juice. Depending on the PH of the liquid the they produce a wide range of color, including some truly unappetizing and murky hues of grey and green. In addition to transforming color, I wanted the broth to taste strongly of the sea. Creating a broth that had a rich seafood flavor AND the correct PH and clarity to interact well with the butterfly pea blossoms actually proved a bit of a challenge! Suffice it to say that my freezer was FULL of failed seafood broth experiments (which is a perfectly lovely problem to have). Don’t even get me started on how hard it was to make a the vegetarian stock that had a good flavor and did this trick. The solution ended involving coconut water.

The recipe offered here is for a flavorful clarified seafood broth with a slightly golden color and the correct PH to create teal when combined with butterfly pea blossoms. If you are not trying to do this particular magic trick feel free to improvise a bit and not follow every one of my fussy directions. Also, know that each and every fussy direction in this recipe represents a batch of seafood stock in my freezer that made some murky horrible color when combined with butterfly pea blossoms! Here is a picture of a delicious (but cloudy) lobster stock…

This recipe includes a number of ingredients that require a trip to an Asian market. I used lemon grass and galanga root, which combined with the chili and lime leaf fish and lime juice to give broth a Thai flavor profile. I also used the soaking liquid from dried shrimp and dried scallops to make up for the fact that I could not boil my lobster shells for a long time because it made the stock too dark and cloudy. I enjoy eating the reconstituted dried seafood in fried rice! Leftover lime leaves can be frozen and used in soups and curries later on. This broth leans heavily on sweet vegetables that are not green. This was all to get a clear yellow broth with a sweet PH.

Seafood Broth (with transformative powers)

(makes about 12 cups)
  • 1/4 cup dried scallops
  • 1/4 cup small dried shrimp
  • The shells from 2 lobsters, tomalley scraped out for another purpose or discarded
  • A few cups of shrimp shells or clams if you lucky enough to have them
  • 2 pounds fish bones and heads (any kind of white fleshed fish will work)
  • 2 pale celery hearts with leaves (about a generous cup chopped)
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped (yellow if you can get them)
  • 1 ear of yellow corn , snapped in half
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass chopped into inch long pieces (optional)
  • 1 inch of galanga root (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
  • 14-16 cups filtered water
  • the egg white of 1 egg whisked with 1/4 cup water (for clarifying)
  • 6 dried butterfly pea blossoms for every 1/3 cup broth
  • a chili pepper lime leaf fish for each guest (scroll down for instructions)
  1. Soak the dried scallops and dried shrimps in 1/2 cup water for 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the lobster shells (and other shellfish shells if using), fish bones and heads, celery, carrots, corn onion, lemon grass, galanga and white peppercorns in a very large stock pot. Cover with 14-16 cups of filtered water- enough to cover. Set over high heat.
  3. When it is about to boil, adjust the heat down slightly to maintain it just below the boiling point. Keep an eye on it. If it boils it will turn cloudy. Some foam will start to form on the top. Skim that off and discard it. You’ll want to do that several times.
  4. Start tasting the both after about half an hour at nearly boiling. There might be enough salt from the lobster shells that you will be able to tell if it is tasty yet or not. If it does not taste salty, do not add salt to the pot. Just sprinkle a few grains into a Tablespoon of the broth to see if it tastes good yet. As soon as it has a nice sweet, lobster flavor, turn the heat off. It could take up to an hour and a fifteen minutes. Any longer than that and the vegetables will start to break down and cloud the broth.
  5. When the broth is cool enough to handle, strain it through a fine mesh sieve lined with muslin or layers of cheese cloth.
  6. Strain the liquid from the soaking shrimp and scallops through a fine mesh sieve into the broth. Reserve the dried seafood to add to rice and scrambled eggs. Taste the broth again. The soaking liquid should have added a more pungent seafood flavor and also more salt. Add more salt to taste if needed.
  7. Bring the broth to a near boil again. Whisk the egg white and 1/4 cup cold water together and add it to the hot broth. Let it come to a boil and take it off the heat immediately. Let it stand until the egg whites cook (about 5 minutes). Strain the broth again through a fine mesh sieve lined with muslin or layers of cheesecloth. The egg white will have grabbed onto any last specks in the broth.
  8. Cool the broth and then refrigerate it. The next day, scape off any fat that has risen to the top and discard. Before serving bring to the point of steaming. Leftover broth freezes well and makes fabulous homemade saimin or ramen or whatever name you like for noodle soup.

How to make a chili pepper lime leaf fish

You will need a Thai green chili and a lime leaf for each guest. You’ll need a sharp knife. A pair of scissors are also useful.
Using the knife or scissors, cut the lime leaf as shown above.
Use the knife to slice the tip of the chili pepper to the same depth as the heart shaped portion of lime leaf.
Slide the heart shaped portion of the lime leaf into the tip of the chili.
Pierce the center of the chili so that there are two slices on either side at least as wide as the end portion of the lime leaf. If possible put a few seeds out, as they will get in the way of the last step.
Take the end portion of the lime leaf and make sure that its points are oriented toward the tail. Slide it in one of the cuts in the center of the chili and out the other.

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