Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fish Stew: Stone Soup Style

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch, join us, or mock as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

If you're like my husband, the first 2 words of the title of this post have already turned you off, and the next three are just long nails in the coffin. But, seriously, if you've made it this far, past the first one and a half long-ish sentences, you've got to stay with me because this was just so so good.

Of course you all know the story of stone soup--a traveler came to town when times were tough and people didn't have much food. No one wanted to share with him. No matter, he told them, he had a magical stone that made lovely soup. Well that got their hungry attention and soon people were contributing bits of onion and potato and that soup was smelling better and better and then everybody shared the soup and lived happily ever after, and all that.

Well, I didn't technically add a stone to my soup. But we did have a lot of odds and ends in our refrigerator. And I'd been wanted to try a fish stew ever since that free tilapia entered our house. And tonight was leftover night. Coincidence, I think not.

I used, to be precise: 1/2 carrot, 2 nubs of potatoes--one that was just in the bottom of the bag and one that had been half bad and that I was going to throw out till I got this brilliant idea, 1 fat slice from a red onion, 1 clove garlic, and part of the fat stalk of broccoli, chopped up. We usually throw the fat bottom part of the stalks away (sorry, cheapskate confession there) so I was extra proud of that bit.

Oh, but it just gets better (if you're my husband you're surely rolling your eyes right now; just stop it, okay). I used the chicken stock I made from the best roasted chicken ever (more on that in a few days). And I--are you ready for this--even used fat that was rendered (which in this case means: simply poured off of the drippings) from that same chicken. Have you fallen out of your chair yet in utter impressedness? Well, of course you have. Or, again, if you are like my husband, this fact has not really impressed you, except perhaps to impress upon you that I am a weirdo (which may very well be perfectly true). But if you're super nerdy like me, then you might think it's kind of cool. (Right--you do think it's kind of cool, don't you?) Anyway, I've never saved the fat before, and I don't know why I did this time. The chicken was just so good that I thought the fat might be good to fry some potatoes in or something (which I still think it would be). Anyway, so I used that fat to make the roux (flour and usually butter or oil combined and used to thicken the soup).

And then, because I know that you're dying for this slightly gross detail, I used leftover fish from the browned butter tilapia. But not just any leftover fish. I used the outside parts that my 6-year-old had scraped off her fish the night before. She only liked the perfectly white insides, so she had scraped off the tasty browned butter outside. It left quite a lot and that annoyed me, so I saved it, thinking of this stew. And I'm glad I did. Because it was super flavorful. You don't have to use your daughter's discards. I promise. You can just flake off some regular leftovers. The point here is that I was so cheap it was slightly gross, and I guess I'm kind of proud of that. (She hadn't licked them or anything, just scraped them off her fish, just, you know, for clarity.) But the more important point is that one of the beauties of stone soup, or leftover whatever you make, is that sometimes it can be extra delicious because you're using the leftovers that were really flavorful the first time around--you're not just using a bland filet that you cooked up in some oil just for the soup. You're using the really good filet with the browned butter crispy outside, which you wouldn't have taken the time to make for a lowly soup. And you're using a perfect and flavorful stock and maybe even some flavored fat. Because you have them around, and you can. It's kind of empowering (if you're a nerdy cook type at least). I'm a little giddy with the wonderfulness of it all.

Below I'll give you a recipe with full vegetables, instead of little bits, should you wish to reproduce this recipe, which was truly delicious. However I'd like to encourage you (though I won't insist) to use leftovers instead of frying up a fish just for this purpose (not that that's a bad thing and really won't take long; it's just that the leftovers will make it easier and maybe a little more flavorful too). I'd also like to encourage you to be brave in your vegetables. Do you have leftover corn, peas, green beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes? Go ahead and throw them in in addition to or in place of the vegetables here. If you used those veggies for another meal and they're seasoned, all the better. You'll get something different than what I got in taste, but not in spirit (aren't we profound people, yes?). And it will be good. (Unless it was gross to begin with. And, yes, I've been there too.)

Note on The International Pantry Cookbook, from whence this recipe was adapted. You'll note that the link for this book is a whopping $.06. That is well worth the price if I may say so. This book is a great one if you're learning to cook, or if you're learning to cook a bit more off the cuff, and especially if you want to take a basic recipe and jimmy it up in all kinds of different ways, particularly international ways. (Please diagram that sentence.) This book will give you a basic recipe for, say, chowder. And then it will give you several ways to adapt it so that it is potato or carribean or clam or whatever. Or it will give you a basic recipe for potato salad and then tell you have you can make it German or Peruvian or whatever. It also has lots of basic sauces (like BBQ sauce, yum) that can be made in a delicious basic way or jazzed up with some kind of special or international flair. The basic recipes are great and can certainly stand very well on their own. And the adaptations are also great (or look great--my family isn't super brave in the international department in case that hasn't yet been deduced--but I have done a bit of adapting--this stew included.) At any rate, it is a very handy cookbook to have around.

Fish Stew: Stone Soup Style
Serves 4
Adapted from The International Pantry Cookbook
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-20 minutes, depending on whether or not you need to cook your fish
Cost: Shall we call it free because this soup was made with all things that normally would have been thrown out. If you don't wish to call it free, here's an estimated cost: $2.70 (1 small filet: .50, potato: .20, carrot: .05, 1/2 C broccoli: .30, 1/2 small onion: .10, 2 cans chicken stock: 1.25--ouch--maybe the buillion cubes are cheaper, clove garlic: .01, butter: .12, flour: .02, milk: .15)

Note: If you need to cook your fish, heat some oil or butter in a skillet. Add the filet and cook for 4-6 minutes on either side. Sprinkle on some dill and pepper and you're done.

3 Tbsp butter, oil, or fat from a yummy chicken
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 small onion
1-2 cloves garlic
1 large potato (probably about 10-16 oz.)
1/2 C broccoli
1 large-ish carrot
4 C chicken stock or about 2 cans broth
1 C milk or cream (we just used milk, but cream or half and half would have been transcendent)
1 fish filet, cooked and flaked
pepper to taste

Melt butter or fat in soup pot or Dutch oven. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, potato, broccoli, and carrot and cook for another minutes. Pour in stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 6-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add milk and flaked fish. Heat more if necessary. Add pepper to taste.

Serve and delight in your utter coolness and resourcefulness.


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