29 March 2011

fish stew and pretty yummy cous cous


When I first settled in New Zealand, one ingredient that I was looking forward to was seafood.  Here I was thinking - NZ must have a wide range of really good affordable seafood.  Afterall it is made up of 2 big islands right?  Okay, so its made up of more than 2 islands - the inaccuracy or accuracy of this detail doesn't help my gripe any!

Surprise, surprise.  Seafood here is expensive and the range a little lacking.  The fillets sold in supermarkets are often water logged as well.  I didn't understand for ages why those fillets produced SO much water once they were cooked.  Didn't matter how I cooked them - steamed, fried, baked in the oven in a pouch, etc.  Then someone explained to me that once the fish was skinned and filleted, it was packed in ice so that they'd stay fresh whilst being transported to the supermarkets.  Apparently the whole pack in ice thing meant that the fillets get water logged.  The only time this didn't happen was if I bought a whole fish.

Side note:
Yes.  I can actually scale, gut and clean a WHOLE fish.  Must be the asian gene.

So for the last 15+ years, I've gone from having fish almost daily if I wanted to in Singapore, to once a week at best.

Ok.  If you're still reading this, then thanks for hanging around and being patient.  Grumbling finished.  This post does move on to a more positive note!

Moving on now.

Remember the pretty photos of cous cous, cranberries and almonds at the start?  There's a reason for it.  Yep.  I made cous cous with cranberries and almonds.

As a side dish to fish stew.

'S' had gone out on a fishing adventure with some mates and came home with his catch-of-the-day.  Skinned, filleted and NOT packed in ice.  And super fresh.  Yippee!!  The plan was to bake some of the fish in a pouch with lots of chinese flavours (ginger, sesame oil, oyster sauce, etc).  But by the time I got home from the supermarket, I'd changed my mind and decided on a fish stew inspired by the fish stew dish I had from Osterio del Toro.

What's even better than cooking with freshly caught fish?  Cooking with 3 types of freshly caught fish!  There was Tarakihi (Sea Bream), Hapuku (Groper) and Blue Cod.  What a treat.  What a luxury.

For those of you who are familiar with these - I have NO idea which fillet was which.  Once filleted, all the fillets were mixed together in the same bag.  So don't get your knickers in a twist about the fish names on the photos.  Its very likely that I've got the wrong name written over the wrong fillet.  Its just a bit of fun and photoshopping okay?  Don't sweat the small stuff!

Aaanyway.  Back to fish stew.  I had made fish curry and fish tom yum many times in the past but haven't made fish stew before.  I kinda knew what I wanted it to taste like, so it wasn't going to be too hard.

It turned out perfectly.  Exactly how I wanted it to.  A rich tasting stew that didn't smell fishy but tasted rich, yet fresh at the same time.

I wanted to make this dish easy and quickly, without fussing with too many spices and steps.  As with many of my savoury dishes, I cook by taste and sight, and not measurements.  So the ingredients below are only a guide.

You can substitute the cannellini beans with any other beans and the amount of garlic you put in this dish is entirely up to you.  We love garlic so there's heaps in mine.  I also added a decent amount of ginger to give this a little kick.  Again how much ginger you use is up to you.  The saffron is totally optional - I had some and been wanting to use it in a seafood dish.

Fish Stew with Tomatoes and White Beans
served with Cous Cous

Fish fillets, cut into large-ish chunks (I find that smaller pieces can sometimes disintegrate once cooked)
1 onion, sliced thickly
1 fat finger of ginger, finely julienned
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced thinly
2 Bay leaves
Thyme (fresh if possible), about 1 teaspoon or a small bunch
A few strands of saffron (optional)
1 can of tomatoes (I buy the ready chopped ones c'os I'm lazy)
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (canned chick peas or butter beans will do as well)
Fish stock, about 400ml (as high quality as you can afford it)
2-3 spring onions, chopped roughly 2cm in length (try and get fat spring onions)
1/2 lemon

  1. Saute onions and ginger first until soft and fragrant, but not brown.
  2. Then add the garlic and leek. Continue to saute until leek is soft.  But careful not to burn the garlic!
  3. Whilst the leek is cooking, drain and rinse your canned beans - since these are often canned in brine, I like to rinse them a couple of times with water.
  4. Add the beans and canned tomatoes (entire can, juice included).
  5. Add the bay leaves, thyme and saffron.  If you're using saffron, be careful to just use a few strands.  I used fresh thyme and chucked a bunch in, stalks and all.
  6. Add the fish stock and bring to boil.  Then simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes covered.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste at this point.
  8. Add the spring onions here.
  9. Add the fish fillets and very gently move the fillets around so that they're all immersed in the liquid.  If the liquid has evaporated a little, just add a wee bit of water. 
  10. Don't turn the heat up as rapid boiling will break your fillets up.  Just continue to cook on medium heat, uncovered.
  11. Cook until the fish fillets are just cooked (this won't take too long).  The fish will continue to cook in the hot liquid as you're laddling it out, so be careful not to overcook your fish.
  12. Squeeze in 1/2 a lemon juice and serve.

You can eat this with some nice bread (like a baguette or even a ciabatta) which is always great for some messy soaking up of the last bit of stew in your bowl, or maybe some cous cous on the side.  Which is what we did.

Cooking cous cous is a no brainer really.  You can add to it whatever tickles your fancy, makes you happy, floats your boat...

Pretty Yummy Cous Cous

1 cup cous cous (enough for 2-3 people)
1 cup boiling water
A handful of dried cranberries
A handful of almonds, roughly chopped
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
Good quality extra virgin olive oil

  1. Mix cous cous, cranberries and almonds into a microwaveable container.
  2. Add boiling water and cover for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Mix and fluff cous cous with a fork.
  4. Cover it back up and microwave it on high for 1-2 minutes (depending on your microwave).  This extra step in the microwave ensures that my dried cranberries (or any dried fruit) is softened.
  5. Add the parsley and drizzle in the olive oil - toss quickly with a fork.
  6. Salt to taste.



  1. GAH!!! I should NEVER, EVER read your blog before my meals. I've started a 'menu' of what I want to eat when I'm in NZ. Three meals a day, tea time and supper optional. Kthxbai :P

  2. In which case...get your ASS over here soon then! XXX ;-)

  3. Hehe...working on it! I've even sold the idea to Yee Ma (your Peng Che) to go with me during October/November period. The last time she was there, we couldn't go to Milford Sounds because of the fog - she's hell bent to make that her first stop. I think mum also wants to come visit again, it'll be such a trip! Ah...so miss the country...

    Btw...can you change my blog name to 'lalala' from the current 'fetish blablabla...' Pretty pleaseeeeeeeeee!! Muaks!

  4. Man does that look good!!! I have to try some of your recipes!


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