For one year in college, I was a reporter for the campus Third World News. One of my favorite things was interviewing Black Muslim ministers and their “soldiers” at their Islamic temples. They were such gentlemen, courteously showing me the work they were involved in in their communities; grocery, clothing and electronic stores, child care, schools and recreation centers. As they took me on tours of their neighborhoods, the young “soldiers” would surround me like bodyguards, calling me “Sister Rose.” Barely out of my teens, I was dazzled 🙂
Since the age of maybe 7 or 8, I have been a voracious reader of just about everything including the classics, over and over again, and science fiction/fantasy, depending on the writer and subject. George M.M. Martin is one of the best storytellers I have ever read and I was lucky to discover him only after he had completed his 5th book in the Game of Thrones series, providing me with weeks of uninterrupted, quality entertainment. Now I, along with his thousands of other fans who would rather read the books than watch T.V., have waited over 6 years for him to publish the rest of the series. In anticipation, I started reading the last book “A Dance with Dragons” again to refresh my memory of what happened last, rediscovering the description of a luscious sounding fish stew, Sister’s Stew:
The beer was brown, the bread black, the stew a creamy white. She served it in a trencher hollowed out of a stale loaf. It was thick with leeks, carrots, barley, and turnips white and yellow, along with clams and chunks of cod and crabmeat, swimming in a stock of heavy cream and butter. It was the sort of stew that warmed a man right down to his bones, just the thing for a wet, cold night. Davos spooned it up gratefully — A Dance with Dragons
Well, the first time I read that, I intended to make it! But real life tends to interrupt my obsessive actions instigated by the interesting things I find it books. I forgot about the stew 🙁 And then, I remembered 🙂
No novice when it comes to the preparation of fish stew/chowder/soup, my only worry was to find a whole fresh fish to make the stock. According to a N.Y. Times article kindly sent to me by The Dog, bouillabaisse aficionados revile any fish stock not made with rascasse or spiny fish but cooler heads suggest an American substitution of grouper, sea bass, rockfish and others. Fine. I was pretty sure I would be able to find one of these at Wegmans or certainly at the Southside Fish Market in the “city” of Scranton.
Guys, here in the landlocked, old school, countryside of Pennsylvania, whole fish, head on, with bones is just not done! It seems that nobody wants to know what any fish looked like before it ended up on their plates as a fillet, preferably breaded. We visited 6 different establishments and only managed to see one large, sliced, whole salmon, head sliced off but left in the right position for display purposes only. The fishmonger at Southside told me that his customers complain if he doesn’t remove every single piece of evidence that the fish had a skeleton.
Dismayed and mystified, I grabbed a bag of frozen grouper fillets, went home and listened to James Taylor to calm my nerves, interspersed between Bobby Bland’s hardcore blues ballads.
The commercially frozen grouper, poached for 5 minutes, was what it was but with enhancers, did create an acceptable stock. If you don’t have to, don’t use fillets. A stock made with a whole fish is superior.
Anyway. The fish ingredients for the stew were chunks from a very nice “back” of monkfish, some okay cod, fresh chopped clams and large crabmeat lumps from China. The stew did not disappoint, although I remained bitter about the stock fish. Do use a reasonable butter; Trix and Phillip gave me a block of butter from New Zealand which was excellent, French imported butter is also good even if you have to buy President 😀
Sister Rose’s Sister’s Stew
Make the stock
1 small to medium whole, scaled and cleaned rockfish, sea bass or grouper
1 small bunch parsley
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 large onion, sliced
3-6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 long green hot chilli, seeds removed or not, sliced
1 cup of drinkable white wine
8 cups water
1 bouquet garni for fish
1 large bay leaf
Place the fish in a stockpot with the parsley and set aside. In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the onion, garlic and chilli, sauteing until the onion is soft. Add the wine and boil for about 2 minutes then add to the stockpot along with the water, bouquet garni and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and poach for 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the fish to a board and when cool, remove the flesh from the carcass and set aside. Also remove the bay leaf, parsley, bouquet and, if you want, the garlic pieces from the stock.
Make the stew
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sliced carrots
2 turnips, peeled and cut into cubes
2 large leeks, trimmed, dirt removed and sliced
1/2 cup barley
Salt and pepper
2 caps safron
1 lb fresh clams, chopped
1lb monkfish, cubed
1 lb cod, cubed
1lb jumbo lump crabmeat
2 cups of heavy cream
In a skillet, saute the carrots, turnips and leeks in the butter until the leeks are tender then transfer with the barley, salt and pepper, to the stockpot with the safron, bring to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Add the clams and simmer for about 5 minutes, add the monkfish and simmer 2 minutes, add the cod and simmer 2 minutes. Lastly, add the crabmeat and meat from the stock and simmer for 2 minutes. Cool the stew for about 5 minutes, then stir in the cream.