Eric Akis: Taters top tasty fish stew

Eric Akis

If you enjoy fish, stew and mashed potatoes, why not combine all three in a dish and bake until bubbly and golden? Today’s recipe does just that. Because the dish is made in single-serving dishes, you can eat what you want now and freeze the rest for another time.

In my recipe, I used Pacific cod fillets, but you could use other West Coast species of that fish, such as lingcod.

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You can buy cod fresh or frozen. If you buy it frozen, the safest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator overnight.

You could also thaw it by submerging the tightly sealed package of frozen cod in a sink of cold water. Before using fresh or frozen cod, pat it dry to remove any excess moisture on the fish.

I like to use cod in a stew because it’s firm enough to hold its shape when cooked and has a mild but appealing taste that marries well with other flavours.

In my stew, those included a fresh herb, which could be tarragon or dill, and a mix of six vegetables, including leeks, carrots and peas.

I could have added potatoes to my stew, but instead decided to mash and set them on top. When the dish is baked, the potatoes create a lovely crust for the stew, as pastry would if you had used it.

You could simply use a spoon to set the potatoes on the stew. But I chose to do the job with a piping bag fitted with a plain tip, piping on the potatoes in a spiral-like design that looked quite attractive when baked.

To fill a piping bag after putting in the piping tip, start by making a two-inch cuff at the top of bag, kind of like you would on the end of a shirtsleeve. Slide one hand into the cuff and hold the bag; use your other hand to scoop in what you’re piping. Only fill half the bag, as that will give you better control when piping.

Now unfold the cuff and tightly twist the top portion of the bag until what you are piping just pokes out the end. Squeeze from the top with one hand and direct the tip with your other hand. After squeezing out one portion, gently twist the bag to push the next portion.

I keep the winter-stew theme going in my next column on Wednesday. Instead of fish, though, that stew will be a meat-free Indian-style one made with chickpeas that I’ll accompany with homemade naan bread and cilantro chutney.

Cod Fish Stew with Mashed Potato Topping

Single-serving dishes of hearty fish stew topped with comforting mashed potatoes and baked and broiled until bubbly and golden. Serve with a side salad, if desired.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: About 60 minutes

Makes: Six servings

For the potatoes

2 lbs yellow-fleshed or russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 Tbsp melted butter

1/3 to 1/2 cup warm milk

• salt and white pepper, to taste

Place the potatoes in a pot, cover with cold water by at least two inches and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat until the potatoes simmer gently.

Simmer potatoes until very tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Drain well. Mash thoroughly and beat in the remaining ingredients until it’s well combined and the potatoes are lightened. Cover the potatoes and set aside.

For the fish stew and to finish

1 1/3 to 1 1/2 lbs. (600 to 680 grams) Pacific cod fillets

3 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup diced leek, white and pale green part only

1 small carrot, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1 medium celery rib, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1 medium garlic clove, minced

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups chicken or fish stock

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn kernels

1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon or dill

• salt and white pepper, to taste

• a few splashes Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

• freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste

• chopped fresh parsley or thinly sliced green onion, to taste

Pat the cod fillets dry, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and discard any bones you find during that process. Set the cubed cod in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Melt the 3 Tbsp butter in a medium-sized pot set over medium heat. Add the leek, carrot, celery and garlic and cook four to five minutes. Add the flour to the pot, mix until well combined and cook one minute more.

Now, while stirring, slowly mix in half a cup of the stock. When the mixture has thickened, stir in the rest of the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook vegetables five minutes.

Add the cubed cod, peas, corn and tarragon (or dill) to the pot, return to a simmer and simmer four to five minutes more, or until fish is just cooked through. Remove from the heat and season stew with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Divide the stew between six small, 1 1/2-cup capacity baking dishes and set them on a baking sheet (see Eric’s options). Carefully pipe, or set on with a small spoon, an even amount of potatoes on top of each stew. Sprinkle the tops of the potatoes with Parmesan cheese, to taste (see Eric’s options).

Bake stews in the middle of the oven 15 minutes. Now turn the oven to broil, and broil about two minutes, or until the stew is bubbly and the potatoes are golden. Sprinkle stews with parsley or green onion and serve.

Eric’s options

Instead of cod, make this stew with another type of fish, such as haddock, salmon or halibut fillets.

If you don’t have small baking dishes, you could use small aluminum pie pans for this.

If you’re only feeding one or two people, bake and broil the stews you’ll eat now and freeze the other ones, unbaked, for another time.

To do so, set them in the freezer uncovered until frozen solid, then wrap and keep frozen until needed.

When needed, thaw the stews, bake 20 to 25 minutes, then broil as described in the recipe. You’ll need a longer baking time because the stew will still be quite cold after thawing.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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