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Updated 19 hours ago
Swimming is a skill I mastered early. At the Y, the instructor stood on the deck holding one end of a long pole; I shivered in the water gripping the other. On cue — the piano hit “Alley Cat” distorted by waves and walls — she'd drag the pole and the pole would drag me, thrashing
Turns out there's more to it. Exhausting mental work. Leading to deep thought. Like: How do fish make it look so easy?
After swim practice, I keep up the mental workout. I envision my body warm, my nose steamed by stew and my elbow guiding a spoon. It's rewarding work that calls on shallow thought. Like: Mmmmm.
Simple Fish Stew
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
1 pound rock fish fillet (or other firm white fish), skin and bones removed, sliced into 2-inch square chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 fat pinch saffron threads
1 cup fish or chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, halved, thinly sliced (chop and reserve 2 tablespoons fronds)
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
Aioli, see recipe
4 thick slices French bread, toasted
1. Season: Toss fish chunks with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Chill.
2. Steep: Crumble saffron into the broth and set aside.
3. Simmer: In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add leeks and fennel. Season with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper and the cayenne. Cook until soft and fragrant, about 12 minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Cook until mixture thickens, about 8 minutes. Stir in broth and wine. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 5 minutes.
4. Poach: Add fish. Cook until just done, about 5 minutes. Pull pan off heat. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons aioli.
5. Serve: Scoop stew into 2 bowls. Sprinkle with fennel fronds. Serve with toasted bread and more aioli.
Aioli: Crack 1 egg into the food processor fitted with the plastic blade. Pull out any green shoots from 2 cloves garlic; mash with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Add to the egg, along with 2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice. Swirl pale, about 15 seconds. With the machine running, slowly — at first drop by drop, then in a thin stream — drizzle in 1⁄2 cup canola oil and 1⁄4 cup olive oil. Scrape into a glass jar and chill.
Leah Eskin is a Chicago Tribune writer.
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