cod, fennel and chickpea stew

I recently bought Duck Soup, a cookery book linked to the Soho restaurant of the same name, which takes a simple approach to food – a few good ingredients, used in a thoughtful way to create simple but delicious dishes.

As is often the case with cookery books, there are key ingredients and techniques which appear time and again throughout the book. In this case, salting and preserving is important and where fish is used in a dish it has usually been salted or cured. So, I decided to try making my own salt cod.

The technique needs work as my fish was definitely too salty – it needed less time and/or less salt. Soaking the fish for an extra few hours, changing the water regularly, really helped and would have got things to a decent level, if I hadn’t been so impatient to eat the cod.

I got around the saltiness by having some of it as a starter of thinly sliced carpaccio, with some fruity olive oil and slivers of smoked tomatoes. The rest of it I used in this stew – I didn’t add any extra salt at all and by the time everything was cooked and left to sit for a few hours, it had balanced out nicely. You can obviously also make this with normal fresh cod, just season to taste as you go.

Rather than write this out as a formal recipe, I’ll do it in a looser way as I was using things up and not really weighing much – this is the approach I took but I am sure you could make changes along the way (for example, cubes of potato would be a nice addition).

Cod, fennel and chickpea stew (serves 3-4)

Poach your c350-400g (salt) cod in milk until it is just cooked. When it is cool, flake into bite sized pieces, removing any skin and bones.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and fry a chopped onion in it. When it is translucent add two cloves chopped garlic, a scant teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika and 1 tablespoon of tomato puree. After a few minutes add 100 ml white wine and a pinch of saffron. A few minutes later add 500 ml water (or stock, if you are not using salt cod), 200g chopped tomatoes (I used a leftover tomato sauce that I’d used for pizza earlier in the week), a tin of drained chickpeas and a bulb of fennel, which has been cut into eighths.

Let this simmer until the sauce has thickened and the fennel is tender. Taste and see if you need to add salt, pepper and/or a little extra tomato puree/sugar. Add the flaked cod, mix carefully and, if you’re using salt cod, set aside for a couple of hours to let the flavours develop.

When you’re ready to eat, heat this through gently, add the juice of half a lemon and a handful of chopped coriander leaves.  Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.