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No Ordinary Fishing Expedition!

January 12, 2006 By:
Andrew Schloss
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Wash away winter with a stew. Watch its steam melt the frost from your windows. Sniff a whiff of its homemaking fumes. Stir it for solace. Sip it for comfort. Serve it for all the good things it holds and the warm feelings it brings.

We instinctively turn toward stews in winter months, but often, in our culture, this means returning to a high-cholesterol, high-calorie diet of meat and potatoes. Fortunately, this need not be the case, for there are stews by the dozens swimming in the sea.

Fish stews exist in most every cuisine. Some are as thin as soup; others so chock-full of fish there's hardly enough room in the pot for broth. There are fish stews laced with curry, and others pungent with garlic and onions. There are hearty fish stews filled with potatoes and cabbage, and those made from delicate fish quenelles bobbing along in a crystal-clear pool.

One thing almost all fish stews have in common is speed. Fish cooks quickly. Its delicate fiber is, in fact, ruined by overcooking. The traditional method of making stew involves a long period of simmering to soften tough meats and to extract their flavor into a broth. But this technique ruins most varieties of fish. How, then, does one get a flavorful fish stew without overcooking the ingredients?

Well, this is typically done by making a broth first, and then poaching the stew ingredients in that broth just until they are cooked through. This means that once the broth is made, the preparation of a fish stew usually takes less than 20 minutes.

Even the basic broth is quite quick to prepare, but it does involve procuring some fish skeletons, and going through the rough and messy job of gutting and cleaning them. I suggest bypassing that process and use a kosher fish bouillon cube. But if you want the entire experience, here's a recipe for fish stock.

Quick Fish Stock
[Pareve]

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil 
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped 
3 ribs celery, finely chopped 
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped 
2 carrots, peeled and chopped 
4 lbs. cleaned white-fleshed fish bones and heads, coarsely chopped 
3 cups white wine 
8 cups water 
juice and zest of a large lemon 
salt and pepper to taste 
2 branches of dill 
2 branches of parsley

Lightly cover the bottom of a large soup pot with oil. Cook the onion, celery, parsnip and carrots in the oil over moderate heat until they soften slightly.

Add the fish bones and wine, and bring the mixture to a boil.

Over a high heat, boil until all of the alcohol has evaporated from the wine.

Add the water, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper, dill and parsley.

Bring to a boil and skim away any scum that comes to the surface. Simmer for 25 minutes.

Strain and use in any recipe calling for fish stock. Any extra will freeze well.

Makes 2 quarts.

• • •

Bouillabaisse is the famous French Provincial fish stew from Provence. It's typically made with an assortment of crustaceans, mollusks, and lean and fatty fish. Here is a kosher variation, made from a blend of local fish. It's exotically flavored with tomato, saffron, garlic, orange and fennel seed.

All-Fish Bouillabaisse
[Pareve]

1 tsp. saffron threads, ground 
1 cup kosher white wine 
finely grated zest and juice of a large orange 
1 large onion, chopped 
2 cloves garlic, minced 
2 Tbsps. olive oil 
2 ribs celery, chopped 
1 tsp. ground fennel seed 
1 tsp. dried basil leaves 
1/2 tsp. thyme leaves 
1 bay leaf 
12 tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and chopped 
3 cups quick fish stock (see recipe) 
salt and pepper to taste 
1 lb. fatty fish fillets (tuna, salmon, bluefish, mackerel, etc.), skinned and cut in large chunks 
11/2 lbs. lean fish fillets (cod, haddock, snapper, bass, roughy, etc.), skinned and cut in large chunks 
1/4 cup chopped parsley

In a small bowl, combine the saffron, wine, orange zest and juice. Set aside.

In a large soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until barely softened. Add the celery and cook another minute.

Add the ground fennel seed, basil, thyme and bay leaf; mix. Add the wine mixture and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the fish stock. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The recipe can be stopped at this point, and refrigerated or frozen. Before serving, return to simmering.

Add the fatty fish and simmer for 1 minute. Add the lean fish and simmer 4 minutes more.

Stir in the chopped parsley and simmer 1 more minute.

Serves 4.

• • •

This stew is inspired by a Spanish tradition of simmering fish in a brown sauce.

Here, equal parts beef and fish stock make for a hearty cold-weather stew.

Salmon Stewed With Fennel and Mushrooms
[Meat]

flour for dredging 
salt and pepper to taste 
11/2 lbs. salmon fillet, skinned and cut in 4 pieces 
2 Tbsps. olive oil 
1 Tbsp. pareve margarine 
1 small onion, finely chopped 
3/4 lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced 
1/2 tsp. tomato paste 
juice of 1/2 lemon 
2 ribs fennel, sliced 
3/4 cup kosher brown beef stock 
1/2 cup quick fish stock (see recipe)

Season the flour with salt and pepper; dredge the salmon in it.

In a deep skillet, heat half the olive oil and all the margarine until bubbling. Brown salmon pieces on both sides over a high heat. Remove to a plate and keep warm

Add the onion to the fat remaining in the pan, and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned. Add remaining olive oil; heat through. Add the mushrooms, tomato paste and lemon juice.

Stir well, and cook until the mushrooms brown lightly. Add the fennel; cook for 2 minutes.

Add the stocks and bring to a boil.

Turn down to a simmer.

Put the salmon pieces back into the liquid, along with any juices that have collected on the plate. Cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until salmon flakes when lightly pressed.

Lift the fish from the pan with a slotted spatula, and place on a platter.

Surround it with mushrooms and fennel.

If the liquid in the pan is too thin, reduce for several minutes to thicken and pour over all.

Serves 4.

• • •

The inspiration for this stew is Latin American.

Salmon is simmered in a peppery tomato sauce. A garnish of pungent coriander leaf, piquant jalapeño and creamy avocado is swirled in at the end.

Mexican Stewed Salmon
[Pareve]

11/2 lbs. salmon fillets, cut in 8 chunks 
juice of 1 lemon 
salt and pepper to taste 
1 onion, peeled and cut in chunks 
2 garlic cloves, peeled 
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and seeded 
red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, cut in chunks 
2 Tbsps. olive oil 
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped 
1 cup quick fish stock (see recipe) 
6 tomatillos, skin removed and quartered 
1/4 cup fresh coriander leaf, chopped 
1 avocado, peeled and diced

Place the salmon on a platter, and season with the lemon juice and salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Place the onion, garlic, one of the jalapeño and the bell pepper in a food processor or blender, and process until very finely chopped.

In a large skillet, cook the finely chopped vegetables in the olive oil for 2 minutes over a moderate heat.

Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the fish stock and bring to a boil. Add the salmon, along with the juices on the platter.

Bring back to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes when pressed with the back of a fork.

Meanwhile, while the fish is cooking, combine the tomatillo and remaining jalapeño in a food processor or blender, and chop finely. Remove to a small bowl.

Stir in the coriander leaf and the avocado.

When the fish tests done, swirl the tomatillo mixture into the skillet and serve. Do not combine too well. The green of the tomatillo mixture and the red of the sauce should form a marbleized pattern.

Serves 4.

• • •

A take-off on New England Boiled Dinner, this stew is simmered slowly in an oven. It takes a little longer to cook, but its preparation time is short and the cooking requires none of your attention.

Cod Fish and Cabbage
[Pareve or Dairy]

11/2 lbs. cod fillet 
juice of 1/2 lemon 
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 
grating of nutmeg 
2 Tbsps. butter or margarine 
1/2 lb. celery root, peeled and thinly sliced 
3/4 lb. red potatoes, washed and thinly sliced 
1 head napa cabbage, shredded 
1 cup quick fish stock (see recipe)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sprinkle the cod fillets with lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Dab the interior of a 1-quart casserole with some butter or margarine.

Place several slices of celery root in the bottom of the casserole. Dot with butter or margarine, and season with salt and pepper.

Top with a layer of potatoes and a layer of cabbage. Dot with more butter or margarine, and season with more salt and pepper.

Place half the fish in a single layer. Repeat with another layer of celery root, potatoes, cabbage and fish. Pour the fish stock over all and cover.

Place in oven and cook for 1 hour, until bubbling and cooked through.

Serves 4.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book isAlmost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.

 

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