Fish Stew Friday – use up what you have and eat well

fish soup
Oops! what looked like curry sauce turned out to be fish soup

It’s Friday night, hot and humid. Having slaved over a hot gas ring every evening this week, I deserve a dinner someone else has planned, shopped for, prepared, cooked and washed up after. I fancy calamari, cured ham and a large glass of cold rose at Bar Pico, the loud yet relaxing Portuguese bar under the railway arches at Vauxhall.

But Him Indoors had a major operation three weeks ago and I see from his pale face that he’s struggling to muster the energy to take the train even two stops. This is out of character. He is always up for lunch or dinner out, unless he’s ill.

‘Isn’t there anything we can eat at home?’ he asks.

Well, no, actually. The carer, shopper, cook, hospital visitor, housekeeper and bottle-washer has awarded herself the night off. She scowls into the fridge, store cupboard and freezer in search of inspiration.

In the fridge, there is a plastic pouch of French fish soup accidentally defrosted because I was too lazy to label it and mistook it for curry sauce.  There’s half an unpeeled onion in cling film, a bendy carrot or two, an end of celery. But hey, we’ve got powdered saffron, an ancient bottle of Pernod in the drinks cupboard, fish pie mix and prawns in the freezer and thank goodness, fresh parsley which makes even store cupboard dinners taste fresh.

There follows one of the best suppers we’ve had in ages and one I’ll make again.

Serves 2-3

1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1 stalk of celery, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, diced (minced)

1 bay leaf

A pinch of saffron

250ml of French-style fish soup. (1/2 of a 490g jar of Lobster Bisque)

1/2 500g carton passata or use the same quantity of chopped tomatoes

1/2 pouch Touch of Taste fish stock

(Optional) Capful of Pernod. Use with caution or it will fight the saffron. If you don’t have any Pernod, add half a small glass of white wine

350g packet Fish Pie Mix, from frozen

3 or 4 frozen uncooked jumbo prawns

Parsley, roughly chopped – a handful


Blitz the first three ingredients in a small food processor or by hand and fry until soft (about 5-7 mins) in the oil. Add one bay leaf, a good pinch of saffron and the diced garlic. Fry for 1 minute. Then add all the wet ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. When the celery is cooked, add the fish chunks and cook for about 5 mins, testing to ensure they are not cold in the middle but don’t overcook. Then add the prawns, bring the pan up to the boil and simmer for about 3 mins.

Frozen fish tends to release a bit of water so don’t add any extra water to your stew until the fish has cooked out.

Scatter chopped parsley over the lot and serve in warmed dishes with garlic bread or toasted white sourdough bread spread with aioli.

Cook’s tips

  1. If you’re heading to Italy this summer, powdered saffron is a good buy. Not because it’s cheap  – genuine saffron is never cheap – but because Italians use more saffron than we do so it’s likely to be fresher. The brand shown here is conveniently packaged.

    sachet of saffron
    Just the right amount: sachets of powdered saffron brought back from Italy
  2. Keep parsley – and other herbs – fresh for weeks by wetting a sheet of kitchen towel and wrapping it round them. Wrap this bundle tightly in cling film (Saran wrap) or a plastic bag.
  3. The UK discount store Lidl is a good source of well-priced passata and their Deluxe Lobster Bisque, at about £1.49 for 490g is a steal.
  4. This was the first time I’d tried Sainsbury’s Basics Fish Pie Mix and I was impressed. Nice mix of fish, skinless. £2.50 for 350g.

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