Spicy West African Fish Stew

I love this dish. It’s packed with flavor, specifically the flavors of West Africa. It also incorporates a few more “exotic” ingredients typical of East Africa and its trade connections. In that way, we can say this spicy, sweet, tomatoey fish stew is in honor of the great Bantu expansion, when the Bantu peoples of West Africa embarked on many waves of migrations which successively took over much of the continent south of the Sahara.

Paired with fufu or with corn porridge, let this dish and all it’s many flavors transport you to Africa.

RUSTIC AFRICAN FISH STEW

2-3 filets White Fish, cooked*
1/4 cup palm oil
2-4 pounds Tomatoes, rough diced (or a large can of whole peeled tomatoes)
1 lb. fresh Red Chili Peppers, de-seeded and sliced (African or Jamaican varieties best here)
1 Head of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small ginger root, peeled and minced
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp. black peppercorns, coarse grind

1 tbsp. ground tumeric
2 lbs. mixed bitter greens *
2 tbsp. tamarind paste*
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup vinegar

*On the fish:
-Stews, especially in Sub Saharan African, are meant to be like… well, a stewpot! Throw in what you have! Incorporate last night’s dinner! So that’s what I did, in my case it was some char grilled tilapia.
– This recipe works great with raw fish too, if you’d rather use that. It has a stronger seafood flavor though. I’ll include down in the instructions how to cook it both ways.

*Note that tomatoes and chilis are only in African cuisine post contact with the New World and the Columbian Exchange, but these days are pretty quintessential to African cuisine. Additionally, tamarind, ginger, and black pepper are ingredients from East and Central Asia, which made their way around Sub Saharan Africa via trade networks across the Indian Ocean

*Before I got cooking, I went outside and harvested some wild and garden greens to cook into my stew.

Dandelion, frisee, and arugula.

Once your ingredients are picked and prepped, the cooking part is pretty simple.

In a stewpot or dutch oven, warm up the palm oil over medium heat and saute the onion, ginger, and black pepper for a few minutes until a little soft.

Add the hot red pepper, tumeric, and the smashed garlic cloves and continue to cook for 5 more minutes, when things are just starting to brown up. Add the vinegar and deglaze the bottom of the pot before adding in all the tomatoes, sugar, and tamarind paste.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cook on low for 1-2 hours.

When everything is nicely melded and cooked down, add the greens. It will seem like a lot, but cook down quite quickly.

This is when you’d add the raw fish if that’s what you’re using. Let the fish simmer in the sauce until it flakes apart. If using pre-cooked fish, add at the very end of cooking, turning off the heat as soon as you do. Flake the fish apart and let it warm up in the still hot mixture.

With Plantain and Cassava Fufu.

How to make Sushi

Sushi represents the ultimate and most definitive attempt in the long history of Japanese cooks distilling good food to its purest essence. It represents the quest to make a single, perfect bite. Fresh fish. . . perfectly cooked sweet and sticky rice. . . a little dab of soy sauce. I’m inclined to think they succeeded.

It’s true that chefs spend lifetimes mastering the art of Sushi making, but what most people don’t know is that it’s actually not intimidating at all to make a simple, more relaxed version at home. I’d even go so far to say that Sushi is easy to make. It’s just difficult to MASTER.

Before we get to rolling, let’s give what we’re making today context with a brief the history of sushi in Japanese cuisine. . .

Continue reading “How to make Sushi”

Smoked Fish

It’s not really correct to imply smoked fish is a specifically Medieval thing, and for that I apologize. People have been smoking fish since long before recorded history began, and we could have done this recipe at any point on this website’s culinary journey.

But as we touched on in episode 16 of the podcast, since both the diets and entire economies of northwestern Europe during the middle ages were so dependent on dried and smoked fish, now seemed an appropriate time to make some.

Though the fish of European Medieval times was herring, I was unable to locate any in my home town, so I opted for an all purpose recipe, for smoking just about any fish, as was done on Weber grills across the ages .

Continue reading “Smoked Fish”

Garum (Fish Sauce) Completed

PREVIOUSLY ON ANTHROCHEF!. . . .

We started a batch of what the Romans called Garum, a delicacy across Ancient cultures: fish sauce! The gross way to say it? Fermented fish guts.

It’s been almost 8 weeks. My layers of salted, chopped sardines have been fermenting in the fridge, their essence dissolving in salt.  This could go for much longer, but I think it’s ready to strain and try!

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Line a mesh strainer with two double layers (yes, a lot) of cheese cloth, pouring in the fish mixture. It will take a long time to strain this way, but you will be rewarded with a cleaner sauce. Feel free to stir to help the process along.

I HIGHLY suggest doing this outside!

And that’s it! The end result is a sauce that’s similar, but also distinct from fish sauce bought in the store.  It’s actually less fishy, with more of a delicious, meaty, umami blast of saltiness.  It’s great in stirfries, mixed with other things into dipping sauces, or added just a couple drops at a time to nearly anything to give great depth of flavor.  It’s no wonder civilizations across history and geography have all enjoyed their own versions of garum.

Homemade Garum (Fish Sauce) — PART 1

If I had to name just one ingredient that was key to the ancient world’s cuisine, it might be fish sauce.

All you need are fish and a lot of salt.   An ingenious method of food preservation, its invention too deep in the past to ever know, alongside other legendary foods of yore like bread, beer, and cheese.

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From Sumer onwards, almost all civilizations seem to have made the stuff.  But it was the Romans who called it “garum” and recorded it into history.   Fish sauce could be made at home by poor fishermen families, but there was also a highly expensive market for the very finest vintages of garum. Whatever quality, you can’t make Roman cuisine without it.

Continue reading “Homemade Garum (Fish Sauce) — PART 1”

Quick-Pickled Fish and Chopped Salad

Here we have a dish that is inspired by Egypt, but  is not an actual Egyptian recipe.  There are no Egyptian recipes. They either didn’t write any, or we haven’t found them.

But through paintings, textual references, and actual meals left behind for archeologists to discover, we can still infer a lot about Ancient Egyptian cuisine.

River fish, particularly mullet, was probably important for rich and poor alike, and Egyptian morticians/chefs worked together to discover the secrets of pickling both food and corpses.  Pickled fish not only allowed for preservation of a natural resource, it was considered quite a delicacy.

This fish is what I’m calling “Quick pickled.” It’s really more of a poached fish, but by doing it in vinegar you can achieve a mild, not too intense pickle flavor that make the fish a nice topper for salads or other cold sides. Continue reading “Quick-Pickled Fish and Chopped Salad”