This is my version of a classic from Brittany, the fish stew that Breton fishermen enjoy after a hard day at sea, the Cotriade. Unlike the more popular French bouillabaisse which relies on tomatoes and crustaceans for a base flavour, the Bretons prefer their fish stew au natural. Its harder to achieve a flavourful seafood stew that is white but when you do it right, the pure unadulterated flavour of fish makes a world of difference.
- White Fish Fillets (500g)
- Black Mussels (500g)
- Canned Sardines in oil (2 x 120g wet weight)
- Canned Anchovies in oil (50g wet weight)
- White Wine (1 cup)
- Minced Garlic (3T)
- Onions (2)
- Celery (2 cups chopped)
- Carrot (1)
- Bread (3 slices)
- Dill Weed
Preparation Part I
- Leave 3 slices of bread in the open to dry overnight.
- Cut the crust off the bread and cube the bread into 1cm pieces. Cut the crust into small pieces as well, but separately. Toast the bread cubes till they are brown and then crush in a zip loc bag with a mallet.
- Dice one onion. Place the onion bits into a large pot. Partially open one of the sardine tins and pour its oil into the pot. Turn on the heat and occasionally stir fry the onions.
- In the meanwhile, spoon all the sardines and anchovies including their oil into a bowl with 3T of minced garlic. Mash everything up with a spoon.
- When the onions are soft, turn up the heat and add the fish and garlic mash. Stir fry for a minute, continuing to mash up the fish. Next, add 1 cup of white wine, wait a further minute and then add 4 cups of water and 2T of chopped thyme. This is the stock for your stew.
- While the stock is simmering on low heat, cut an onion into 6 wedges, dice 2 cups of celerey and 3/4 cups of carrot. Add this to the stock together with the bread crumbs.
- While the veggies are cooking, soak your mussels in water for a few minutes. Also, cut your white fish into chicken nugget sized pieces. You can leave the skin on. Marinate with 2T of oil and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Do not put either the mussels or fish into the pot yet.
- Continue the simmer until the onion wedges turn into soft individual petals. Then turn off the heat.
Preparation Part II
- This is the part you do about fifteen minutes before serving your stew.
- Bring the pot up to a full boil.
- Add the clams and continue boiling for 1 minute.
- Next add the marinated fish making sure all the pieces are submergedand. Continue boiling for 1 minute (less if you fish pieces are not thick, but never more).
- Turn off the heat but leave the pot covered for 10 minutes while the fish continues to cook .
- Taste and season with salt and pepper to bring out the full flavour of the stew. Garnish with a sprinkle of dill weed or chopped parsley.
- When I first decided to come up with my own cotriade recipe, I was confronted with a typical dilemma. Fish gets hard and then flakes up if it is boiled for more than a short while. But, any kind of stew needs to be simmered for a long time for it to develop its full flavour. Many fish stew recipes get around this by using tomatoes (or worse bacon) for the base flavour, but that is the easy way out. The solution was to use canned fish and wine to form the base flavour.
- The next challenge was to get rid of the fishy smell and taste of the canned sardines. After some experimentation, I found that the combination of onions, garlic and deglazing with wine at a high temperature did the trick. When you see the stew frothing up a bit after adding the wine, don’t worry, this is normal. Its just the fishiness going away.
- The sardine stock in turn allows us to just par boil the fresh fish right at the end, so it remains intact and tender. A fish stew is supposed to have 3 types of fish for variety so I recommend you use 2 types of fresh fish. Cod I find is one of the best choices, and I also like pomfret and sole, but basically any kind of fish white fish would do. The most important thing is to not overcook the fish.
- Besides tomatoes, the other ingredient I didn’t want to use was potatoes, which would make it more like a chowder (or worse, like beef stew). This presented another problem: how do I give the stew some body? Then I got to thinking, well you eat French stews with bread, so why not just have the bread already boiled into the stew? That worked out well.
- For the white wine, the oaky tones of a chardonnay is a perfect fit with the stew.
- If you want a North Sea taste don’t use olive oil as it imparts a Mediterranean feel. I use sardines in sunflower seed oil for this stew.
- Instead of using salt at the end, consider ‘cheating’ and using Hon Dashi pellets instead. It will bring out the best in your fish stew.
- If you like French seafood stews, check out my bouillabaisse recipe.