This recipe adapted from Ana Patuleia Ortins' Portuguese Homestyle Cooking (Interlink 2003) is one of the first recipes I fell in love with as a new cookbook reviewer. I still remember the moment the brick-red seasoning paste dissolved into the stew and its aroma filled the house. It is an ample recipe, so sometimes I halve the amount of fish. When I do, I still use the full measure of the seasonings, as I find them irresistible. I can never find the pickled Portuguese chili peppers, but they are there principally for their heat, and the author has said they can be used interchangeably with other dried, fresh or liquid capsicums.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
4 pounds any thick cuts of white fish (halibut, hake, pollock or cod), cut into 1-inch-thick steaks or thick serving-sized fillets
1 quart water or enough to barely cover the fish
3 sprigs parsley
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
In the bottom of an 8-quart pot, layer the fish and pour in enough cold water to barely cover it. Add the parsley, onions, bay leaves, salt and olive oil.
Cover tightly, place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the fish is opaque, about 20 minutes.
7 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed or 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 pickled chili peppers, each about 1 inch long, finely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon ground safflower* or paprika
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
Using a large mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with the salt, forming a paste.
Mash in the cumin, parsley, chili peppers and safflower. Stir in the tomato paste, sugar and nutmeg. Drizzle in the olive oil followed by the vinegar. (If you do not have a mortar and pestle or yours is not large enough, make the paste in a medium bowl using the back of a spoon or a fork.) Stir to blend the ingredients well.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked fish to a serving dish. Cover and keep warm. Whisk the seasoning paste into the fish broth, making sure it is well dispersed. Simmer about 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Ladle some of the seasoned broth over the fish and serve remaining broth on the side. Or place generous pieces of fish in individual soup plates and spoon the broth over it. Serve with plenty of bread to dip in the broth.
*Portuguese ground safflower can be found in Latino markets and some supermarkets.