Eddie Hernandez and Serafin
Eddie Hernandez (l) and Serafin Rojas. Photo by Lizzy Johnston.

A core value of the Southern Foodways Alliance is to sing the unsung. To that end, we are honored to celebrate these behind-the-kitchen-door heroes each week. This piece first appeared in issue #55 of our Gravy quarterly. 

The Dish: Seafood Soup, aka Sopa de Serafín

The Inspiration: Serafín Rojas

Chef Eddie Hernandez explains Seraf√≠n’s role at Taqueria del Sol:¬†

In 1991, Seraf√≠n Rojas was the first employee I hired to work at the Sundown Caf√©‚ÄĒnow the Cheshire Bridge location of Taqueria del Sol. He started as a dishwasher, and he’s been with me ever since. Now, I like to say he is in charge of nothing and everything. Seraf√≠n is one of those people who just wants to do his job. He has never been interested in moving up in the kitchen. Finally, I made him move over to prep because I thought he was too old to be washing dishes.

Seraf√≠n is very funny when he’s in a good mood. And very grouchy when he’s not. But no matter what kind of mood he’s in, whether it’s raining or snowing, he always shows up for work. He was born in Oaxaca but lived near Acapulco for much of his life. He moved to Atlanta in the mid-1980s and has been with me for nearly 24 years. Two of his sons and one of his grandsons work for Taqueria del Sol. And his nephew, who started working for us at age 17, is now one of our kitchen managers. I’m the godfather to one of Seraf√≠n’s children.

He used to sell tamales out of his car. Now he makes a seafood soup with leftover shrimp or fish from the kitchen. The consistency falls between a cold soup and a coctel de camar√≥n. He uses ketchup, fish stock, avocado, cilantro, onions, and tomato. We just call it¬†sopa‚ÄĒit doesn’t have an official name. It’s one of those soups that once you start eating it, you can’t stop.

Photo by Lizzy Johnston.
Photo by Lizzy Johnston.

Sopa de Serafín

Serves 12 to 14

Soup Base:

5 cups ketchup ¬†* ¬†2 cups water ¬†* ¬†2 cups fish stock ¬†* ¬†2 cups finely diced tomatoes ¬†* ¬†1 cup finely diced onion ¬†* ¬†1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro ¬†* ¬†2 jalape√Īos, seeded and finely diced ¬†* ¬†1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice ¬†* ¬†1 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce ¬†* ¬†1 Tbsp. Tabasco sauce

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and refrigerate.

Seafood: 

1 gallon water  *  4 bay leaves  *  1 onion, peeled and halved  *  3 Tbsp. salt  *  1/2 lb. snapper, cut into 1-inch pieces  *  1 lb. octopus  *  1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined

Garnish: 

2 cups  diced avocados  *  Crackers, such as Saltines  * Tabasco sauce

To prepare seafood: 

Add water, bay leaves, onion, and salt to a large pot, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add octopus for 1 minute. Remove octopus and bring water back to a boil. Add octopus again for 1 minute. Remove octopus and bring back to a boil. Add octopus and cook for 20 minutes. Remove, coarsely chop, and chill.

Bring water back to a boil, add shrimp, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove, coarsely chop, and chill.

Bring water back to a boil, add fish, and cook for 1 minute. Remove, coarsely chop, and chill.

To serve soup: 

To 1 cup of soup base, add some octopus, shrimp, fish, and diced avocados. Serve with crackers and Tabasco sauce.