February 5, 2013

Italian Fish Tank (Recipe)

As I've said before, fish is something that I enjoy eating but haven't gotten much of a handle on cooking.  Last time, I put tilapia in a packet and trusted the oven to do it's thing, with good results.  Still, one recipe isn't enough to get fish into regular rotation at the house; to be a featured player at dinner time, an ingredient has to be versatile.  Versatile or pizza.
When I started exploring what can be done with fish that is hard to screw up, it became abundantly clear that soup was the answer.  Which made me happy, because soup is my favorite thing to cook.  The method is insanely easy.  Bring a flavorful liquid (in great enough quantity to cover the fish you'll be using) to a boil.  Add the fish and drop to a simmer.  Cook twenty minutes or until the fish flakes apart.  This is painting in primary colors, and when the outline is so simple it really allows you to focus on which flavors you want to bring forth.  
Initially, I was going to incorporate my fish into a potato-leek soup, but Wife asked me to keep potatoes, rice, noodles, or anything else that was heavy out of it and make the fish shine.  This is where that decision led me:  first, I melted half a stick of butter over medium heat, and added a pound of mushrooms and one red onion, both thinly sliced.  As they cooked down, I eventually added four minced cloves of garlic, and a pinch of salt, pepper, and my stand-by of crushed red pepper (about half a teaspoon).  Since I knew I wanted my soup to have as deep of a flavor in the broth as possible, I let these ingredients caramelize until they were good and dark brown, as if I was going to make French onion soup.
Once they were cooked down to my liking, I removed the onions and mushrooms to a plate to be added back later in the process.  This left me looking at a pan with a lot of crusty bits at the bottom; the fond.  Keeping the stove on medium heat, I added half a cup of white wine (not cooking wine--the wine doesn't need to be obscenely priced, but the statement that you should only cook with a wine you'd drink holds true) and used a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan until the bits had combined with the wine to make a sauce.  Once the alcohol smell had fled my wine, I added two quarts of chicken broth and two cans of diced tomatoes, along with a quarter cup of basil, which I turned up to a boil.
Speaking of basil, I bought a big enough package for half a cup, because I knew I'd want to garnish the soup with it.  It is hard to tell from the blurry camera phone shots I've been taking since my regular camera's shutter stuck together, but I followed the time honored trick of cutting my herbs into a chiffonade, or long thin strips.  You can stack the basil into a pile, then roll it tightly.  This roll will slice much more easily than individual leaves, and you get nice, even strips with less bruising.

With that out of the way, let's turn our attention to the fish.  I used flounder, not because of any particular affinity for it, but because it is relatively cheap and I didn't want to do tilapia again.  Also, I wanted to use a light fish--something heavier like salmon would have gone better with the hearty soup I'd first imagined; here I wanted something that seemed light like the basil and wine.  
I just cut two pounds of fish into what I envisioned to be bite sized pieces.  As you can see, I like fairly large bites.  It turned out perfectly for everyone, though, because they tended to flake apart once they became cooked.  As I teased above, all I had to do was bring my cooking liquid up to a boil, drop in the fish, and keep the pot at a hearty simmer for about twenty minutes, and the soup was done.  Well, almost.  
One of the things that really made this soup for me was the cheese.  I took a potato peeler to a wedge of parmesan, cutting six strips per bowl of soup.  Once the soup was divided up (it makes eight portions, which was great because we got two dinners out of it, and luckily it followed the soup rule and not the fish rule, and was even better the second day) I simply placed the cheese on top in an asterisk pattern and topped with a bit of the sliced basil I'd reserved from earlier.  I was really pleased with how this soup turned out, too.  It had just a hint of spice from the pepper, a bit of tart from the wine, a hint of the sea without being too fishy, and most importantly that cheese melted just slightly, forming a little crust you had to dig through to get to a bite of soup.  Oh, and if you were wondering about the silly name?  I couldn't think of anything else to call it that wasn't just a list of ingredients. 

1 comment:

  1. mmmm I'm not a fish person, but with cheese and onions, how bad could it be? I'd try that.