Fish Stew

Although my Irish ancestors first landed in New York in 1804, their culinary tastes have been passed down to me… somehow. It must be genetic because I don’t recall a single “Irish-themed” dish or meal from childhood. And no, I don’t eat boiled potatoes. Nor do I much care for the pale, overcooked, cliché-traditional foods of Ireland. But if it’s briny, I’m in. Last week I made a fish stew on a cold day. It’s a little bit New England but its roots are very Irish.

onion and potatoes form the base of any humble stew

Word of advice: befriend your fishmonger. I learned that fairly recently. Now I have an endless supply of fish bones and heads to make fish stock, when the mood strikes. Actually, it makes itself. Don’t be afraid to steal 30 minutes to throw together a stock with what would otherwise become landfill.

use cod or haddock, or any firm fleshed white fish

If you’re at all curious about Irish cookery, you must get to know Darina Allen’s books. My favorite new cookbook from this passionate Irish cook is full of lost recipes and ideas. It’s called “Forgotten Skills of Cooking.” You’ll find instructions for smoking foods, making your own butter and dandelion wine. None of which I will be tackling anytime soon. It has all sorts of useful tips, though, such as what to do with leftover egg whites and detailed drawings of cuts of meat. This recipe isn’t hers, but I enjoyed reading the book for inspiration. The pictures are beautiful.

a quick, rich fish stock makes the dish!

If the stock part of this recipe throws you off, well, then buy it ready-made. I guess. Not to sound self-righteous, but you can make the stock on a rainy Sunday, while folding a load of laundry. Then freeze it for the day you’re in the mood to throw together a fish stew. You’ll be glad you did.

hearty, peasant stew tasting of the sea

Fish Stew

Serves 4

2 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼” cubes
1 medium onion, chopped into ¼” pieces
1 tablespoon flour
¼ cup dry white wine
3 cups fish stock (recipe follows)
4 small new potatoes, red skin scrubbed and left on, cut into ½” pieces
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into ½” pieces
1 branch of celery, cut into small pieces, about ¼” thick
½ teaspoon of fresh thyme, minced
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb. cod fillets, rinsed, patted dry and cut into 3” chunks (they’ll break up once cooked)
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
1 tablespoon chives, minced

In a 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot, heat bacon over a medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon is browned. Remove cooked bacon to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, setting aside for later. In the same pot, add chopped onion and cook 5 minutes, until softened, stirring occasionally.

Add flour, stirring for 3 minutes, then add wine and ½ cup of fish stock. Continue stirring as the liquid thickens with the onions and flour. Continue adding the stock in ½ cup increments, stirring occasionally and waiting a few minutes between each addition. This ensures the stew base maintains some thickness.

Once all the stock has been added, bring liquid to the boil and add the potatoes, turnips, celery, thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes uncovered, or until the vegetables are just tender. Add the big chunks of fish and cook for 5 minutes. Gently stir in the cream and parsley and heat through, just enough until the stew is piping hot and ready to serve. Garnish each serving with a pinch of minced chives.

use only the stems in stock - save the leaves for something else

Fish Stock

This is a haphazard and loose process. Do not fret! It is not fussy or exact. The ingredients are simmered together for about 30 minutes, then strained. What remains is a lusciously flavorful broth. Drink it on its own, use it in seafood risotto or soups and stews, or freeze portioned quantities in plastic zip bags for future use.

Makes about 2 quarts (8 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 dried shitake mushroom (optional but good to keep in your pantry for flavor boosting)
2  cloves garlic, crushed
3 pounds fish heads, bones, fins – or whatever treats your fishmonger gives you… Rinse before using
3 cups dry white wine
6 cups water
1 handful of parsley stems
2 sprigs fresh thyme
5 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt

Heat the butter or oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, celery, mushrooms, garlic, and fish bones. Increase the heat to high, cover, and cook about 10 minutes. Stir a few times. The ingredients will release their delicious liquid. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently and pressing on the fish bones/heads with a spoon to break them down, until the vegetables and bones are soft and aromatic, about 10 minutes longer.

Add the wine, water, parsley, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf, and salt, and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until stock is rich and flavorful, about 30 minutes.

Strain the stock and discard the solids. The stock can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days or frozen for several months.

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1 Comment

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One Response to Fish Stew

  1. Kate

    The rain is back. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. I’m making fish stew! Looks absolutely beautiful.