Verdict: A hearty and delicious stew of tender fish and succulent shrimp which can be made in 30 minutes. The dill and soft licorice flavours make for a refreshing version of a traditional fish stew recipe.
Memories are the unreliable narrators of life; selective, pleasantly fuzzy around the edges, and often showered in a soft, warm glow is how I recall most of the past. Since enjoying food can be such a wonderful experience, I tend to hold on tightly to the memories of sharing great meals with friends and family.
Last year, on a dark, blistering cold night in Calgary, Alberta (Canada), I first enjoyed the comfort of this fish stew. My roommate, with a newly acquired recipe collection from her mom, decided to make this on a -40 degrees Celsius winter night, the kind of cold that freezes nostril hairs together and eyelashes shut. In my memory, we huddled over a small table lit by a solitary kerosene lamp while the wind whistled a lonely tune across the Arctic landscape. Dressed in knee-length parkas, we handled the hot bowls of stew with seal skin gloves. Outside, the sled dogs howled for their dinner.
In reality, we ate this over an Ikea wooden table, in our well heated but poorly insulated house, its windows always dewy with condensation in the winter time. I can recall with confidence that the soup was delicious, fragrant and oh so comforting. Like the shrimp niçoise pasta, this was another example of the winning combination of seafood, licorice flavour and tomato based broth.
The Mediterranean fish stew recipe reminded me of my mom’s take on fish stew: she poached salmon steaks in a simple broth composed of sauteed shallots and tomatoes, and seasoned with tamarind powder for the sweet and sour element. When the salmon was almost cooked through, she would add fresh chopped dill and large lettuce leaves, which would wilt slightly but retain their crunch. The stew was served with your choice of rice or vermicelli and garnished with chopped green onions and cilantro.
Since I was too intimidated to re-create my mom’s fish stew, I followed my friend’s family recipe and threw in some Viet twists along the way, like the fresh dill and serving it with white rice. Try out this wonderful stew and create some new fuzzy and warm food memories of your own, Arctic themed or otherwise.
Substitutions for Fennel
Both times we have tried to make this recipe, the grocery store was out of fresh fennel. You can try substituting with 8 stalks of celery and 1/2 teaspoon of anise seeds or ground star anise for the licorice flavour. I found anise seeds at a small Middle Eastern Market while star anise can be found at most Asian supermarkets. Try the international aisle of your supermarket to start.
If you can’t find those spices, try 1 teaspoon of fennel in its place.
Mediterranean Fish Stew with a Viet Twist
Note: this is the kind of recipe that functions best if all the vegetables are chopped and prepared before hand as it is harder to multi-task here.
Serves 4 | Prep: 10 minutes | Cook: 30 minutes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 small fennel bulb sliced finely OR 8 sticks of celery, finely sliced + 1/2 teaspoon of anise seed
- 2 red or green chillies chopped
- 14 oz can of chopped tomatoes
- Small bunch of thyme or 1/4 tsp of dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
- Grated zest of half a lemon
- Pinch of saffron strands *optional
- 3 cups fish or vegetable stock
- 1/2 lb of white fish fillet with no skin (cod, coley etc.) cut into bite-sized pieces
- ½ lb of shrimp without the shells
- ½ lb of seafood (mussels, squid, etc) *optional
- Bunch of flat leaf parsley or dill, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Put olive oil in a pan and over medium heat, sauté the onion for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel (or celery and anise seed) and the chillies. Cook for a further 10 minutes, always stirring.
2. Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf orange juice and zest and the lemon zest (plus the saffron if using). Stir together then add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to LOW and simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered.
Tip for cutting fish into pieces: use the thinnest and sharpest knife you have, avoid serrated edges as they will rip up the delicate fish meat.
3. Increase heat to MEDIUM and add the fish, prawns, seafood. Cover and cook for a further 5 minutes (any longer and the fish disintegrates). Every two minutes or so, stir gently, taking care not to break up the fish pieces.
4. Garnish with fresh parsley or dill and serve with good quality crust bread or stir in white rice.