For the most part, summer in New England is hot and muggy, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune from the occasional cold and raw day. Right now, for example, I’m warm and dry inside of a Starbucks, but outside in New Hampshire it’s cold, windy, and raining sideways.
It’s not a day for outdoor summer fun, but it’s perfect soup weather.
I signed up for HBO Now (HBO’s streaming answer to Netflix) when it came out in April, and a few days ago, I decided to watch the first episode of Game of Thrones — maybe you’ve heard of it? — just to see what all the fuss was about. That was exactly one week ago, and now I’m nearly finished with the third season, so I guess I like it.
Today’s weather and this hearty fish stew somehow seem perfect for binge watching a show where at least half of the scenes involve dark forests, mud, fur cloaks, sword fighting, and characters (the rich ones) drinking wine from pewter cups and (the poor ones) dunking sad hunks of bread into sad bowls of soup and bemoaning their lot in life. Almost always with good reason. Those Lannisters are sneaky sneaks!
There’s nothing sad about this soup, though. I know it’s a crime among some New England circles to enjoy a tomato-based seafood soup rather than a dairy-based one (chowdah, if you will), but creamy chowder is heavy and rich. Sometimes, I don’t want that, and I don’t think I’m alone. This soup is lighter in texture, but still plenty flavorful. It’s also plenty warming.
While fish-based, it doesn’t call for seafood stock, but instead relies on a combination of anchovies, aromatics, and water. Personally, I’d rather get my hands on some seafood stock (or make some) than mash up 4 anchovy filets, but maybe you don’t share my distaste for squashing tiny fish with the back of a spoon.
So, if you find yourself gritting your teeth through a freezing New England summer day, or if you want a quick and flavorful fish stew with lots of chunky potatoes, tomatoes, and the tasty spirit of anchovy to complement your favorite HBO fantasy television series, add this one to your list.
You can also feel free to add other kinds of seafood like shrimps, scallops, and/or clams to make this an even more dynamic seafood stew. Just dial back a bit on the fish and add a bit more water to keep the broth to seafood ratio what it should be.
Easy Fisherman’s Stew
Adapted from The New York Times
4 large garlic cloves, minced
4 anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 4 minutes, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
Salt to taste
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 quart water
1 pound small new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered or sliced
A bouquet garni (a fresh bundle of herbs like thyme and sage) made with a bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper
1 to 1 1/2 pounds firm white-fleshed fish such as halibut, tilapia, haddock, or sustainable cod, cut in 2-inch pieces
Combine the garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt (use a mortar and pestle if you’ve got it, a measuring cup and the back of a spoon if you don’t) and mash to a paste. Add the anchovy fillets and mash with the garlic. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion, celery and carrot with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the mashed garlic and anchovy. Cook, stirring until very fragrant, and then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down a bit, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the water, potatoes, salt (to taste) and the bouquet garni. Bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover partially and simmer 30 minutes. Taste, adjust salt and add pepper to taste. Remove the bouquet garni.
Season the fish with salt and pepper, and stir into the soup, but don’t let the soup boil. Simmer 5 – 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) or just until it flakes easily when poked. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, adjust seasonings, and serve.
Tip: You can make this through adding the fish up to three days ahead. Keep in the refrigerator, bring back to a simmer and proceed.