Food & Drink

Aioli brings warming flavor of garlic to simple fish stew

Fish stew is flavored with fennel, tomatoes, leeks saffron and a big dollop of homemade aioli, stirred in at the end.
Fish stew is flavored with fennel, tomatoes, leeks saffron and a big dollop of homemade aioli, stirred in at the end. Tribune News Service

Swimming is a skill I mastered early. At the Y, the instructor stood on the deck holding one end of a long pole; I shivered in the water gripping the other. On cue – the piano hit “Alley Cat” distorted by waves and walls – she’d drag the pole and the pole would drag me, thrashing

Turns out there’s more to it. For instance, leaning “downhill.” Envisioning your body as a pencil, your nose as a golf club, and your elbow as a shark’s fin. Exhausting mental work.

Leading to deep thought. Like: How do fish make it look so easy?

After swim practice, I keep up the mental workout. Leaning into a chair, I envision my body warm, my nose steamed by stew and my elbow guiding a spoon. It’s rewarding work that calls on shallow thought. Like: Mmmmm.

SIMPLE FISH STEW

Prep 30 minutes, cook 30 minutes.

1 pound rock fish fillet (or other firm white fish), skin and bones removed, sliced into 2-inch square chunks

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 fat pinch saffron threads

1 cup fish or chicken broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 leek, white and pale green portion sliced into matchsticks

1 fennel bulb, halved, thinly sliced (chop and reserve 2 tablespoons fronds)

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 cup canned tomatoes

1 cup dry white wine

Aioli, see recipe

4 thick slices French bread, toasted

1. Season: Toss fish chunks with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Chill.

2. Steep: Crumble saffron into the broth and set aside.

3. Simmer: In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Tumble in leeks and fennel. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and the cayenne. Cook until soft and fragrant, about 12 minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Cook until mixture thickens, about 8 minutes. Stir in broth and wine. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 5 minutes.

4. Poach: Add fish. Cook until just done, about 5 minutes. Pull pan off heat. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons aioli.

5. Serve: Scoop stew into 2 bowls. Sprinkle with fennel fronds. Serve with toasted bread and more aioli.

Makes 2 servings.

Aioli: Crack 1 egg into the food processor fitted with the plastic blade. Pull out any green shoots from 2 cloves garlic; mash with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add to the egg, along with 2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice. Swirl pale, about 15 seconds. With the machine running, slowly – at first drop by drop, then in a thin stream – drizzle in 1/2 cup canola oil and 1/4 cup olive oil. Scrape into a glass jar and chill.

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