Dinner Again

Fisherman’s Stew

Looks inviting, does it not?

This recipe was inspired by the Fisherman’s Stew served at the Ajax Cafe in Port Hadlock, WA. Port Hadlock is just 15 minutes north of Port Ludlow on the Olympic Peninsula. And the resort at Port Ludlow is a very nice place to stay. The Ajax is a friendly, funky, noisy family restaurant with an assortment of hats on the walls (you are invited to choose one for the evening) and, to add to the wonderful chaos of your visit, a guy might be playing the piano and singing through the din.

I have modified the recipe, and it turns out to be a more than reasonable version of the Ajax recipe.

Using a Dutch oven, briefly toast 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds, stirring to prevent burning, then remove when darkened, and set aside. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in the Dutch oven, adding 2 or 3 cloves of garlic (minced) and 2 or 3 tablespoons of minced shallots. Why 2 or 3? I like to err on the high side.

Stir in a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of dry white wine, and a cup of fish stock or clam juice. Simmer over medium/low heat for 30 minutes, having added a teaspoon of lemon zest, salt, pepper, a pinch of saffron, if you have it, and two teaspoons each of savoury, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and rosemary. Then use a wand to blend the mixture. This base may be prepared and refrigerated a day or two ahead of your dinner party.

The seafood comes next (just prior to serving). With the soup mixture over medium heat, add a dozen clams and a dozen cleaned and de-bearded mussels. Give them 5 minutes. Then add 1/2 pound large scallops (cut in two); up to a pound of halibut (cut bite size); up to a pound of salmon (cut bite size); and a half pound of prawns (Argentine prawns work well, tails removed). The seafood will cook quickly – probably fewer than 10 minutes.

Just prior to removing from the heat, add a half cup of red wine, and a half cup of heavy cream. All of this should easily satisfy you and three of your guests.

The Ajax is quite unassuming, and you can drive your car right up the front entrance!

You will want some nice bread to sop up the goodness. Nothing wrong with a baguette or garlic bread, but I have included a recipe for a loaf of artisan bread. All it takes is some time, and it turns out perfect each time.

Artisan Bread

This is a “no knead” bread featured on the allrecipes.com website and again, is something I have slightly modified. You need to plan ahead for this one – about 18 to 24 hours ahead – perhaps about the same time you put your stew base together.

In a large bowl, mix together 3 cups of all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of herbes de Provence, a teaspoon of active dry yeast, then 1 and 2/3 cups of warm water. Mix to the point where it all gets quite shaggy looking (remember those shag carpets from the 70s? That kind of shaggy). Seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for the better part of a day.

In the early afternoon before your dinner, unfold the shaggy mass (which will be quite bubbly, yet will still look unappetizing) onto a well-floured surface. Form it into a ball, add flour to the top, and cover with a non-terry cloth towel for 2 hours. Place a Dutch oven in your bigger oven and heat to 450 degrees F. Once you are at 450, take your dough, again forming a ball; and with seam side down drop it into the Dutch oven. Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes. In the meantime, pour a teaspoon of sea salt into a small bowl containing 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mix together. When your 30 minutes are up, pull the Dutch oven from the bigger oven, remove the lid, and use a brush to spread the oil/salt mixture over the surface of the bread. Put the loaf back into the bigger oven, without the lid, and bake for 15 minutes more. It should come out golden brown and have a hollow sound when tapped. Place your loaf of artisan bread on a cooling rack before slicing. It will look something like this.

Will you need 2 Dutch ovens? No. You can make your bread earlier in the day, well ahead of the time you put your stew together.

What else to do? Dessert? No. I will propose a salad, and leave dessert to another blog entry.

Salade Lyonnaise

Lyon may well be the food capitol of France. Parisians may disagree, but there is something about Lyonnais restaurants and their food that sets Lyon apart. Casual? Friendlier? Yes to both. Certainly the “bouchons” – traditional Lyonnaise restaurants – are more likely to offer simpler fare. And very likely the owner will come around to your table at some point during your dinner. This recipe for salade Lyonnaise is very close to what I was served at a bouchon in Vieux Lyon several years ago. The base of the salade is bitter greens – usually frisee. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, so you can use a mix of frisee and romaine, two cups of each, torn. I like to take the romaine off the spine, because I want the greens to wilt under the dressing. In a skillet, heat 1/2 cup olive oil, then add 1/2 pound bacon (cut into good size chunks from a slab rather than from rashers). Cook the bacon until crisp, then remove from the skillet. The oil/bacon fat mixture stays in, as the Lyonnaise are not shy about fat. Chop a shallot and sauté until soft, then add 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard. Keep warm on low heat.

Plate your greens together with your bacon and start your poached eggs. The idea is that each guest will have a soft poached egg that once broken, will seep through the salad. I have a real problem with doing a good poached egg, and some guests don’t like their eggs runny, so I cheat a bit. I use a non-stick muffin top pan (not an exciting photo but that is the pan below), spray each cavity with some Pam, break the eggs and gently place in each cavity. I bake these for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree F oven, et voila! The result is 4 eggs sunny side up, and all done at one time. Before you pour your warm vinaigrette over the plated greens and bacon, top each plate with some finely chopped onion and garlic, salt and pepper. Once the vinaigrette has been poured, add the egg.

Cervelle de Canut

Cervelle de canut literally translates as “silk weaver’s brains” and could be considered an insult or a tribute to those who worked in the silk industry of Lyon many years ago. Not sure why. Because it is soft and mushy? Or were they known to be good cooks? Regardless, cervelle de canut is a delicious dip – one that I had at the end of a dinner at a bouchon in Lyon. The recipe calls for fromage blanc, but you can substitute cottage cheese, or in this case, ricotta. You will need the following:

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (I mash the ricotta to strain any liquid)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chives chopped
  • 1 tablespoon parsley chopped
  • 1 green onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil (if you don’t have it – use a bit more olive oil) 

Put all the ingredients except the ricotta in a small food processor and mix thoroughly. Then add the processed ingredients to the ricotta and mix well. It will be soft and mushy. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. I used a pepper medley that gave the dip some bite. Just before serving heat the dip briefly (30 seconds or fewer) in a microwave. Garnish with tarragon leaves and invite your guests to spoon the dip onto fresh slices of baguette. I prefer to serve cervelle de canut prior to dinner – very nice with a glass of wine.