Friday, 30 October 2009

An amazing fish stew

It just so happened that our dawn ride to Billingsgate Market coincided with the date that I'd arranged for Basil Snr to come over for dinner at For Those That Love to Eat HQ.

So fate decided that the meal would be pescatarian, however as we set off for Billingsgate at 5.30am, the menu was still very much up for grabs. I had thought of doing a rustic variation of fish and chips, with fresh mackerel wrapped in streaky bacon, roast in the oven in amongst wedges of potato, rosemary, and whole heads of garlic, cut in half through the centre of the cloves. To serve there would have been crushed minted peas and a home-made tartare, bursting with capers and finely chopped gerkin.

When I got to the market, however, variety got the better of me, and it seemed a shame to limit our supper to just one type of fish. And so fish stew it was to be, packed full of my sea bass, haddock and mussels.

I'd previously tried a few Basque-style fish stews, however since the fish was so fresh, there was no need to over-complicate things with unnecessary chorizo or even pernod. I opted for a recipe penned by my culinary hero, Nigel Slater.

Just as I would expect from him, his recipe - with the inclusion of a couple of un-conventional ingredients - is something of a culinary masterstroke. He starts with a base of anchovies, orange peel bay leaves and thyme, which are muddled together with garlic in lightly sizzling oil. I also added leek and fennel for texture and to complement the fresh fish flavours, but these aren't essential. Next, white wine, tomato, fish stock, and the fish only when the sauce has reduced to a splutter. Finally, the mussels are dropped in, which according to Nigel, add as much flavour in their three minutes of cooking as all the other fish put together.

The result is a bold and comforting stew that is both rich yet never heavy, with beautifully evocative scents and flavours. Alongside our starter of smoked salmon, and plenty of Dad's freshly-baked Irish soda bread, it was quite a midweek supper.

Nigel Slater's Fish Stew

Serves 4

3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
6 anchovie fillets, drained from their oil
1 or 2 curls of orange peel
1 or two bay leaves
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
1 large leek
1 large fennel
1 glass white wine
2 400g tins of tomato
500ml fish stock (I simply boiled the fish heads and bones in vegetable stock for 30 minutes, which worked very well)
400g assorted fish per person (I used sea bass and haddock)
24 mussels
Chopped parsley to serve
Plenty of bread to mop

Peel and finely slice the garlic and cook in a deep pan with the oil, anchovies, orange peel, bay and thyme till the garlic is golden and the anchovy has dissolved. Add the chopped leeks and sliced fennel, and cook for another 6 minutes, until the leeks are translucent.

Pour in the wine, boil rapidly for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 20 minutes. When the sauce is thick and slushy, lower in the fish, firmest first. Then, once the fish is opaque and tender, add the mussels. Cover with a lid and cook for another 3 minutes until the mussels open. Serve in soup bowls, sprinkled with parsley, and plenty of fresh bread.

You could also include chorizo, before adding the leeks, and use fino instead of white wine for a more Iberian-inspired version.

P.s. If you're wondering why the picture has no mussels, it's because that's the left overs... We were too busy eating to take photos the first time around.

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