In 1983, I spent a few weeks in Barcelona in the home of a Spanish woman named Chenchi. She spoke virtually no English, I, little Spanish but somehow we got along. Several evenings a week we would go down to the market in the old part of the city where she lived to buy the where with all to make supper. Many times we would buy fish, often hake but occasionally halibut.
When I saw a splendid piece of halibut for sale at the fish monger's in King's Lynn the other day, memories of my time with Chenchi came back and planned a dish based on her's. Although this is not exactly as Chenchi made her dish, the elements are much the same.
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For this recipe to serve 4, you will need;
500g of firm white fish, I used halibut
500g of potatoes
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
2 peppers, sliced
200g of flat Spanish beans, sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
100g of pitted black olives
100ml of dry sherry
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of chilli
A few strands of saffron
lots (I do mean lots - 150ml) of good olive oil.
Begin by peeling the potatoes and cutting them into chunky discs. Toss them in a little olive oil, the salt and pepper and roast them in a hot, 200C oven for 15 to 20 minutes until they have taken on a golden brown colour and are almost tender. Meanwhile fry the onion and the garlic gently in a tablespoon of olive oil until the onion is translucent and the garlic begins to turn a pale golden colour. Be careful not to over cook the garlic. Add the peppers and beans and continue cooking on a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Add the sherry and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes until all the alcohol has cooked off. Add the chopped tomatoes, plus the empty tin filled up with water. Add the cooked potatoes, saffron, chilli and olives and cook for 10 minutes on a gentle heat, while you switch the oven back on to 200C
Finally place the fish cut up into large pieces on the surface of the stew, pour on the remaining olive oil and spoon a little of the mix over each piece to cover. Place the dish in the oven and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or only until the fish is cooked.
The olive oil in this dish is important not only for the taste (so use a good Spanish one if you can) but for the unctuous texture it gives the finished dish.
I use a favourite terracotta dish I brought back from Spain 30 years ago, it is designed to go on a gentle flame and also in the oven. Any flameproof cooking vessel that goes happily into a hot oven and can then be served from will be good.
Although the crisp texture of the roasted potatoes is lost once they have been cooked in the stew, the roasting imparts a delicious addition to the final flavour.