Fish Stew with Fennel and Baby Potatoes (a.k.a. Pirate Stew)

At our house, this fast and fancy little number is also known as "Pirate Stew", a name inspired by one of my favourite children's books,  The Troll written by Julia Donaldson,  author of the beloved Gruffalo franchise. In it, a hapless Troll desperate to eat a goat (à la Three Billy Goats Gruff), is captured by a gang of fish-loving pirates with poor culinary skills.  The Troll is saved from jumping the plank when Pirate Peg Pokadot discovers his cookery book and frying pan. Sick of their own bony, briny, slimy cooking, the Pirates spare the Troll's life and make him the ship's cook.   Sadly for the Troll, when he turns to his "favourite page in his cookery book" a recipe for a nice goat stew, the incredulous Pirates inform him that he will be cooking fish and only fish, because that is what pirates are supposed eat.  

As someone who has many favourite pages in many cookbooks,  I feel terrible for the poor old Troll who will never realize his lifelong epicurean dream of cooking and eating a goat stew.  So as comfort, I imagine that at least if he's destined to a life full of fish stew, it is something  akin to this perfectly creamy, white wine and dill scented dish that appeared in Bon Appétit a couple of years ago.       

This stew takes under half an hour from start to finish, and it's elegant enough to feel special, but simple enough to make any old night of the week.  It's a cozy bowl full of fragrant chowder-like broth studded with bits of  fennel and satisfying chunks of fish and potato.  I enjoy sopping up the broth with a thick slice of buttered wholegrain bread, so as not to waste a drop.   This is undoubtedly a meal to warm the cockles of the heart - even the cockles of pirates, trolls, picky children and tired adults.  

From Bon Ap
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz baby potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 medium bulb of fennel, finely chopped
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups of broth or water
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1 1/2 lbs skinless white fish,  cut in 2 inch pieces (I used local pickerel)*
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat.  Cook potatoes until beginning to soften, around 3 minutes.  

2. Add fennel, garlic and season with salt and pepper.   Cook for 2 minutes, until fennel is soft, stirring occasionally.

3. Add wine, bring to a boil and reduce until almost evaporated.  Pour in 2 cups of broth.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, until potatoes are soft.  

4. Stir in fish and crème fraîche and simmer for 4 minutes, or until fish is just cooked through.   Sprinkle in the fresh dill, and more salt and pepper, to taste. 

Serve with lemon wedges, if desired (the recipe calls for this, but I actually prefer it with out the lemon) 

*I haven't tried it with anything but white fish, as per the recipe, but I think it would be just as delicious with other types of fish including trout, cold smoked trout or salmon, or even shrimp.  

Serves 4


Almond Sriracha Crusted Trout & Ginger Rice Pilaf

This is hands-down my favourite fish recipe these days.  I think I've made it half a dozen times since first trying it in November.  It comes from Quebec based food blogger and singer/ song writer Marilou Champagne's recent debut cookbook Three Times A Dayfeaturing beautiful photography by her husband Alexandre Champagne.  In the introduction, Marilou candidly shares her struggles with anorexia and how she healed her relationship with food by promising to to eat "three meals a day". The wonderfully nourishing and celebratory recipes in Three Times A Day are a powerful tribute to her recovery,  and I have tremendous respect and appreciation for her food philosophy.  

So flipping through the pretty pages of this lovely new addition to my ever expanding cookbook library, I stumbled upon this recipe which I was immediately compelled to make.  Why?  Well,  because -  Sriracha!  You know, the ubiquitous Thai chili sauce that is really having a star moment right now.  Plus I have a soft spot for nutty crust on fish.  Plus I love trout; it is delicious, my kids think it's salmon, and I can always source a year-round locally farmed, sustainable supply here in Toronto.  

The aromatic ginger rice pilaf  is a perfect compliment to the delicate, biting, buttery tang of the crust on the fish.  A bit of sautéed ginger and onion is a simple, but brilliant strategy for majorly bumping up the flavour profile of plain old rice.   It comes together in a cinch.  With a bit of steamed broccoli or a crisp green salad, you have a complete meal in under half an hour.  It's also a very flexible meal - you can leave a section of the fish free of crust, for younger and/ or pickier eaters (damn them!) as you can see in the picture above.  

I've shown the recipe below, as it's written, but I often make extra crust  (1.5 x the recipe) because it's so tasty and I want to be sure I always have enough to cover the entire surface area of the fish.   


2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped and peeled
1 cup long grain white rice (I use basmati, but I think brown could also work here) 
2 cups broth (I use better than bouillon vegetable broth) 

1 1/2 lb trout

zest and juice of 1 lime
1 to 2 tsp sriracha
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs (I'm sure gluten free would work fine) 
1/3 cup almond flour
1/3 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 400F. 

2.  Melt butter in pot and cook onion and ginger together until soft, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Add the rice and cook for 2 more minutes.  Add the stock and bring to a boil. 

4.  Reduce heat , cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the rice has absorbed all of the stock.

6.  Arrange trout on a baking sheet, lined with parchement and season with salt and pepper.

7.  In a bowl combine all of the crust ingredients.  Add salt and pepper and spread over the trout fillet or fillets.   (I use a small offset spatula to do this.)

8.  Bake the fish in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, and then broil under the broiler until the crust turns golden brown.

9.  Serve with the rice pilaf. 

Serves 4