Fish, tomato, fennel and basil...they were meant to be together, and so they were in this hearty fish stew. Not quite cioppino or bouillabaisse, my version has some similarities in the tomato and fennel.
I was aiming to use half a fennel bulb, some red wine and fresh basil, and chose to use fish as I was going to be in the area of the local fish shop. I picked up some halibut, scallops and prawns to use; at the last minute choosing to pan fry the halibut and serve it on top of the broth, while cooking the scallops and prawns in the broth.
This allowed me to add another level of flavour to the halibut, by rubbing it with the zest left on a partially zested lemon before cooking it. My original plan had been to cut it into chunks and to cook it in the broth along with the scallops and prawns, which is the more traditional approach.
Drain, reserving the juice:
1 X 28 ounce can of tomatoes
Place into an ovenproof dish, along with salt, pepper and olive oil.
Bake at 350F until the tomatoes start to colour. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To make the broth, cook in olive oil:
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
Season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and starting to caramelize.
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
1/2 cup red wine
Cook until the wine has almost completely reduced.
the roasted tomatoes
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
the reserved tomato juice and an equal amount of chicken stock
Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer until the onion and fennel are tender.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Add sugar if the broth is too acidic for your taste. I added 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Prepare the fish:
Peel the prawns, leaving the tails on
Clean the scallops, removing the side muscle
Remove the skin from the halibut
On a plate, combine:
Zest of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Rub this on both sides of the halibut.
Cook the halibut in a hot pan, until fully cooked.
While the fish is cooking, add the prawns and scallops to the broth and simmer until they are cooked.
To serve, divide the broth between 2 large bowls, sharing the prawns and scallops evenly. Top each bowl with a cooked piece of halibut, and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil.
- As I had chicken stock open, that is what I used. Vegetable stock, fish stock, or clam juice are all good choices for a dish like this. The chicken stock does not stand out flavour wise, so don't feel that you have to buy something else if that is all you have.
- Tomato juice can be acidic, depending on the brand you are using, which is why I tasted and adjusted it after cooking it for a while.
- White wine can also be used; I had red wine open. You can also use liqueur such as Pernod, which will increase the anise flavour that the fennel brings to the dish.
- Any fish you add, whether it is halibut, cod, snapper or salmon can be cut into large chunks and cooked in the broth along with the prawns and scallops. The other alternative is to do what I did and pan fry it as a large piece and serve it on top of the broth.
- If you are able to buy fresh clams and / or mussels, steaming them open in the broth will add the flavour of their juices to the broth. They also look really good in the bowl. Just remember to provide a plate at the table for the empty shells .
- Crab or lobster meat can be added as well.
- The stew is great served with crusty bread that can be used to mop up the broth.
- The broth can be made ahead and frozen; defrost, reheat and proceed with cooking the fish.