Fish stew is a quick and easy way to feed a gang of hungries on a Friday night and doesn’t need much else but some good bread and wine. Like all stews, you need balance: rich liquid and a range of potent flavours steaming from your pot. But unlike meat, the fish cooks quickly so you don’t want to cook it for hours.
To make a quick fish stock the easiest thing is to quickly boil up some leek, carrot, celery and bay leaves with the remains of any shellfish and fish heads and tails. The fishmonger will give you these or you can use the bits from the fish you are about to prepare and make the stock on the spot. Simmering it for 30 minutes is enough. The photograph is the remains of a whole salmon, I’d filleted before making the stew, ready for a stock.
Start by making a spicy tomato sauce. Fry garlic and onions in extra virgin oil, add turmeric, cayenne pepper, green peppercorns and when sizzling add a couple of tins of plum tomatoes and some red peppers and two fennel bulbs, thinly sliced. Then add the stock and a bottle of good white wine. You should be looking at a vat of winey, steaming red liquor.
While doing that cut up chunks of mackerel and salmon fillets (I’m anxious about the pollution caused by farming salmon so usually I choose to have wild Alaskan) and douse them with soy sauce. Grill them skin-side up until crisp. Slice a large squid and a side of Pollock fillet. Beard and scrub mussels and you could have some fresh langoustines at the ready (their wispy limbs add something to the mix) if you’re feeling posh.
Now add everything gradually. First the white fish to cook in the sauce and then the squid and the shellfish. When the mussels open wide add the oily fish and some parsley. Take it bubbling to the table and mop up with large chunks of bread spread generously with a fresh salsa verde of coriander, tarragon, basil, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, sea salt and fresh broken pepper.
Any leftovers can be blended minus the bones and shells to make a potent bisque for Sunday supper.