Estuary Summer Fish Casserole
This is a simplified version of the great bouillabaisse from the south of France. The amount of seafood obviously depends on the fish available in your area, and the success of the day’s catch, but the aim is to use what has been caught. The varieties will not diminish the aim or enjoyment of this dish – and even if you only have a couple of varieties this dish is still worth cooking. This recipe uses some of the bones to produce a fuller flavour but if you have not retained them just omit this step. The key is to cook the firmer fish first and the smaller flaky fish at the end so the fillets do not break up.
- 2 monkfish fillets
- 2 blue moki fillets
- 6–8 fillets of small estuary fish
- such as yellow-eyed mullet or spotties
- 20 cockles, clams or pipis, or 12 mussels
- 50ml olive oil
- 1 leek, diced
- a pinch of chilli flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- ⅓ cup white wine
- 1 small potato, peeled and finely diced
- 1 bulb fennel, diced (keep any feathery fronds to use as garnish)
- 6 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- a good pinch of New Zealand saffron
- 1 litre water
- 1 bay leaf
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- cup fresh herbs such as Italian parsley, chives or chervil, roughly chopped
Cut the large fillets into good chunky pieces. Keep a few of the fish bones – put them in a small metal sieve. Scrub the shellfish well (those green pot scrubbing pads are good for this).
Put the oil into a large sauté pan or wok. Add the leek, chilli flakes and garlic. Fry gently, then pour in the wine. Cook for a minute, then add the potatoes, tomatoes, fennel, orange zest and saffron. Simmer for a few minutes and add the water.
Add the sieve containing the bones and simmer gently for 15 minutes, then remove.
Put in the herbs, a little salt and some pepper. Add more water if the mixture reduces too much. Add the mussels and cover. When they start to open add the monkfish. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the cockles. When they open, add the smaller, softer fish fillets.
Cook until these last fillets are ready, probably just 4–5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as required. Sprinkle over any fennel fronds you may have and other green herbs.
To serve, place the whole saucepan on the middle of the table. Serve with toasted garlic bread, pour generous glasses of local wine and reflect on the day!