I made this when our good friends Shawn and Jo stopped in right before Christmas for an early celebration. They were not going to be around for the big Christmas day feast but I wanted to make something special nonetheless. This luxurious fish stew was it!
For me, there are a few kinds of special when it comes to cooking; special can be all about cheaper ingredients (cuts of meat, fish, vegetables, spices) which may take more time and love to coax goodness from, or using more expensive ingredients that need little help in the flavor department. This is not always the case, but you know what I’m talking about? It takes a few minutes to cook a piece of filet mignon to perfection, while a piece of beef chuck roast may need hours of cooking to taste just as exquisite.
This particular dish probably fell right between the two with more expensive ingredients being mixed with more reasonably priced ones. I wanted to make a fresh tasting but intensely flavorful fish stew so used cheaper fish like clams and catfish for strong flavor, and cod fish (at $17 per lb!) for girth, sustenance and an air of luxury. This is not a dish I could have made on Christmas as part of a large array of dishes, as it would cost too much, but, for 6 people it was more realistic (this fish dish cost approximately $52)
I wanted to talk about how much things cost because it is a very big part of how I choose certain dishes. I don’t believe for 1 minute that you have to spend a fortune to make something unforgettable, but I am also aware that there are times when using items that cost an arm and a leg, like vanilla beans or saffron or truffles, can transform a dish into something very special. People are funny creatures. We cannot help associating pricy with luxury and inexpensive with plain and ordinary. This is true from clothing to food. I think food is the place where the gap can be closed considerably by savvy, smart shopping, and attention to detail when using those purchases.
One thing is for sure; anything that comes from your kitchen is going to be better than any take-out, frozen dinner and most every restaurant offering. Happy cooking!
* A note to Blood type A diet Followers: Omit the clams and add 1 more pound of fish. Omit the clam juice and use veggie broth or veggie bouillon cube and water. Do not add the tomatoes or peppers. Add more spinach if you like. Believe me, it will still taste fantastic!*
You will Need:
2 lbs firm white fish (I used a mix of cod and cat-fish), rinsed, cut into large chunks
2 lbs clams, scrubbed and rinsed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 or 4 long green or Anaheim peppers
2 medium sweet onions
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
big bunch fresh spinach – 6 or more cups chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
3 cups clam juice (usually found bottled in the tinned fish section of supermarket)
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
4 or more cups cooked warm basmati rice
sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
more chopped fresh cilantro (garnish)
Cook rice and keep warm. If you have leftover rice you want to use, put it into a pot, cover with lid and turn to the lowest setting on your stove top about 15 minutes before serving.
1 – Prep the peppers as follows: place oven rack close to grill and turn grill to high. Place peppers on cookie sheet or baking tray and place in oven. Check every few minutes. When the peppers’ skin chars and turns black, turn the pepper. Do this until the entire pepper is charred (about 10 minutes or more). Place peppers in brown paper or plastic bag and seal. When they have cooled, remove from bag and tear off the charred skin, remove the seeds and stems and dice. Set aside (this can be done ahead of time and stored in the fridge until ready to use)
2 – Put big saute pan or large saucepan or pot on medium heat. Add oil and when it had heated up, add onions, garlic, and several grinds of black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3 – Add the herbs (thyme, parsley, cilantro), pepper flakes and charred, diced peppers. Cook for another 3 minutes.
4 – Add the wine, water, clam juice and tomato puree to your pan and turn heat up. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook on low for about 3 or so minutes.
5 – Add the spinach and cover with lid. Bring back to a simmer and continue to simmer until the spinach is very soft and wilted (another 5 minutes). Taste broth for addition of sea-salt. Add according to taste.
6 – If using clams, add about 3 minutes before the fish and simmer. Add the rest of the fish chunks and cover with lid. Simmer for between 8-10 minutes. Take off heat.
To serve, add a big spoonful of warm rice to bottom of shallow bowl and ladle fish stew on top. Add more pepper flakes and black pepper if you like. You can also omit rice and serve with fresh crusty bread (or serve with both, as I did)