Archive for the ‘Soups & Stews’ Category

Basque Fish Stew – Andy Way

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Let me start off by saying that recipes are boring. I mean, seriously, is the extent of your cooking creativity limited to opening someone’s cookbook and following step by step instructions that someone else thinks are good? You gotta improvise! Other people’s recipes should be like maps to you – they give you background, history, techniques and general direction, not soul or creativity. Ideally, after enough time spent cookin’ and having fun with food, you can just open your fridge and see immediately what you want to make, given what you have.

Similarly to music, the key to improvisation in cooking stands on understanding of basic theories, techniques, history and constant practice. One needs to learn to play a melody, and play it many times before improvising on the rest of the harmony. Just like you can substitute your chords in jazz or splash some chromatic notes in the middle of a solo, you can play around with substituting flavors or textures in food. As long as you know which ingredients you can use as substitutions. How do you find out? Two ways: read about it, or just wing it and than taste it to see if you got it right! Word of advice: don’t wing it onstage, or in your case, when you have guests over. They might never return.

Below is my improvisation on a Basque Fish Stew, or Marmitako (as it’s known in Basque County). Traditionally it is a very simple stew of Anaheim peppers, potatoes, onion and line-caught tuna, eaten on fishing boats in the Cantabrian Sea. There are many varieties of this dish, some tomato based, some adding garlic, some swapping tuna with salmon.

Basque Fish Stew

Basque Fish Stew

Basque Fish Stew (Andy way)

Method: Sauté, Simmering, Stewing.

Cookware: Dutch oven, Sauté pan.


4 Anaheim peppers diced

1 Large Bulb of Fennel * diced or thinly sliced

2 Bay leaves

1 Shredded Black Radish *

¼ head of Cabbage * diced

1 Fresh red chilly pepper (like Serrano) sliced in 2 diagonally

1 stalk of lemongrass * cut in 1 inch cubes

3 – 4 large potatoes (Yukon) small cubes

2 lb of fresh Tuna (like Ahi, or Yellowfin) large cubes

1 tsp tomato paste dissolved in ½ cup of water or stock

1 cup white wine

3 cups of vegetable stock (or quick shrimp stock (see tips & tricks), or clam juice)

6-8 threads of Spanish saffron

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp crushed chilly

1 spring of marjoram

3 tbsp of chopped parsley & Juice of ½ lemon.

  • * You can substitute Fennel, Raddish & Cabbage for 2 medium Onions (original recipe)
  • * You can substitute Lemongrass with Garlic.

Sauté fennel, radish, peppers, cabbage, chilly, bay leaves, lemongrass, saffron in olive oil until peppers are soft and change color. Pour in the wine. Add potatoes, stock, marjoram, paprika, and stew for 20 –25 minutes after bring it to simmer. Brown tuna in a sauté pan, cut in 2 inch cubes and add to the pot and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Garnish with lemon juice and parsley.

Tips & Tricks

  • Quick shrimp stock is (1/2 lb) shrimp tails, sautéed in oil, with basil stalks, chopped celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, ½ lemon in 3 cups of water and a splash of wine. Simmer for at least 25 –35 mins,
  • Browning: Make sure tuna is dry – too much moisture will not let you brown it right.
  • After sautéing the tuna, deglaze the sauté pan with white wine, scrape the blackened bits and pour into the pot. (this does add flavor)
  • Do not over cook fish, 10 minutes will cook it all the way through.

Lentil Soup

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Soup has to be one of my favorite things to make. I find the whole process very relaxing: chop stuff up, sauté mirepoux (carrots, onion, celery) and other ingredients, infuse with stock and wine, and finally gently simmer until well done. It’s really simple and always leaves with you tons of food – no wonder that the history of soup originates in poverty!

This one is really a meal in itself, as lentils make it a hearty fall soup that is great with salad or a light main course of seafood or chicken. Some crusty bread, oiled and dusted with parmesan cheese and heated at 425 degrees to give it a browned edge will be great with this soup. Coriander and cumin give this soup great flavor and jalapenos add just enough heat.

Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup

Method: Sauté, Simmer

Cookware: Dutch Oven, Soup Pot

Lentil Soup

3 Stalks Celery (finely diced)

1 Large Carrot (finely diced)

1 large Black Radish shredded

½ Fennel bulb thinly slice or diced (you can use 1 large diced onion instead)

2-3 canned plum tomatoes or ½ package of diced tomatoes

1 ½ cups of soaked lentils

2 Fresh Jalapenos cut in half lengthwise

2 Tsp Coriander seeds (ground with) 1 ½ tsp. Cumin Seeds

1tbsp Fresh Oregano

6-8 leaves Basil

½ tsp Thyme

2 Bay leaves

3 Potatoes

¼ head of cabbage

2 tsp. Tomato paste dissolved in

1 cup of white wine

1/3 cup of lemon juice

2-3 cups of Spinach Leaves chopped (Arugula, or wild rocket works great as well)

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

4 qt. Brown stock

Olive oil

Salt / Pepper to taste

Cover the bottom of a heavy, large-ass Dutch oven (enamel coated is my preference) or soup pot with thin layer of olive oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Toss in radish, celery, carrot, fennel, Jalapenos, and sauté until soft (8-10mins). Add cabbage, and sweat until soft and translucent. Add tomatoes and tomato paste with wine bring to simmer and add ground coriander / cumin seed mixture, oregano, basil, thyme, dump a cup of hot brown stock in and bring back to solid simmer. Add lentils, remaining stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Please, for crying out loud, be patient and don’t go smoking or watching TV at this time (do it after that) and make sure you don’t boil your soup. Once it simmers (10-15 minutes), turn the heat down to low and let it steep for 45 minutes. Add potatoes, spinach and parsley. Return to simmer and let it work its magic for another 20 minutes. Turn heat off. Add lemon juice, and adjust with salt and pepper.

Tips & Tricks

Making this a day in advance is a great idea. This soup obtains a thicker, richer taste after it “stands” for a while. Grind coriander and cumin seeds yourself, don’t go for ground stuff – whole other flavor. Use large green lentils. (not small red, not French green, not small black.)

This is how a Dutch oven differs from Stainless steel. Dutch ovens are ideal for slow cooking, releasing flavors perfectly and should, consequently be kept at low heat. If using a stainless steel pot, you might need to be on medium-low, medium. You can also cook your soup a little longer, as stainless will cook faster.