Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Mediterranean fish stew
According to the great Catalan writer Josep Pla (1897-1981) fish stew as cooked and eaten by fishermen is the most ancient of Mediterranean dishes. Regardless of the religion, the rulers or the nationality of the neighbouring shores fish stew has been a constant.
A simple dish with a long history that, marrying fish, onion, garlic, tomato and potato in the pot, produces sustaining, sumptuous yet delicate fare. (Though tomatoes and potatoes wouldn’t have featured until they arrived form South America in the 16th century) From this fundamental marriage the Provencal bouillabaisse was born and also the less elaborate suquet of Catalonia, a dish that has attained an almost legendary status (at least on its home shores) and one that usually carries a price tag to match. But, however much you pay, restaurant food can sometimes be over complicated, smothering authenticity under sophistication.
Cooking the dish aboard a small sailing boat at anchor in sheltered waters, using fresh ingredients and the traditional Catalan earthenware pot, la cassola, elevates the enjoyment to the power of ten even if the cook is mediocre.
Suquet a la Onawind Blue goes something like this: sauté monkfish in olive oil until beginning to brown, generously sprinkle with finely chopped garlic and parsley, add a glug of rum and ignite, remove fish from pot and set aside. Add more olive oil and slowly sauté finely chopped onion for as long as possible adding a peeled, deseeded tomato and reducing until a thick paste remains. Return the fish to the pot together with a couple of thickly sliced potatoes. Add one part saltwater to three parts spring. Cover, bring to a fast boil then simmer until the potatoes are tender. Finely chop garlic, parsley, almonds and fried bread and stir this mix into the pot.