November 16 – November 22

Pollock, Chorizo and Chickpea Stew

Monday:          Pizza after golf with Billy on his birthday – Beez out of town – Texans upset the Bengals – the day could only have been improved by the presence of SWMBO, although she would have have made us use cloth napkins
Tuesday:         Antipasta of prosciutto, artichokes, cheese
and pickles, Polpetonne Alla Toscanan, Salad of Celery and Mushrooms
Wednesday:       Mushroom and Kale Minestrone, Toasted Bread
Thursday:        Antipasta of mushroom and kale and polpetonne
alla Toscana con pepperoni      Pizzas:   Margherita/onion and Mushroom/Gruyere
Friday:          Pollock, Chorizo and Chickpea Stew with blistered tomatoes, app of salumi, cheese, pickels and marinated artichokes.
Saturday:        Orecchietti with tuna and fennel, green salad, App of crostini with basil-parmesan pesto and Ricotta
Sunday:          Baked Chicken with roasted vegetables, Spicy Tuscan Kale

When I grew up, we Catholics were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays. This usually meant flounder baked with a dab of butter and a sprinkling of salt, pepper and paprika, along with a salad and perhaps some potatoes.* I had no problem with that except for the College Club Dance Class holiday dinners where the non-Catholics got fillet and the Catholics got a tasteless piece of fish (except for the Hannas who always seemed to wangle a dispensation from Bishop Wright). So I was actually disappointed when this traditional, very easy sacrifice was eliminated except during Lent.

But I got over my disappointment last Friday night. Theological considerations aside, the best reason for eliminating the rule against eating meat on Friday is Tom Kerridge’s Pollock, Chorizo and Chickpea Stew. You still have your fish, and most people in this health-conscious age are happy about that, and the chorizo adds a deeper protein kick, the chickpeas a substance, and the tomatoes a grace note to the whole affair. The fish itself, cured in salt and saffron, is a savory golden-brown and, I could go on, but you can taste it yourself – you can find the recipe below.

*It also meant, when our parents were going out or too busy, Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

But first a note on the great Tom Kerridge, proprietor of the only Michelin Guide 2 star pub in the world, immense mountain of a man, whose clear but highly accented English is as unfashionable as his Balzacian body. His recipes pack a wallop of flavor and you can find them through the web-site of The Cooking Channel or in his cookbook: Proper Pub Food. If you’ve spent time in the pubs I have – great beer but undistinguished food – you will, as I did, look down on pub food. But that would be a huge mistake. Tom’s cooking is “right bangin,” as he might say. Most of his recipes take some time and technique – but the Pollock is easy and quick.

Tom Kerridge’s Pollock with Chorizo and Chickpea Stew

With a minimum of fuss – a 2 hour cure of the Pollock (we used haddock, you will not find Pollock in America markets**) in rock salt (I used sea salt flakes) and saffron – you will have a dish that pleases fish eaters and meat eaters alike and that you will come back to again and again.

To feed 3 or 4 get yourself 1.5 lbs – 2 lbs. of skinless Pollock (haddock or cod are the available alternatives – you can use flounder in a pinch, but it’s not quite substantial enough). Then lay out – 4 tablespoons of rock salt (I used sea salt flakes); a pinch of saffron; 4 TBS extra-virgin olive oil; 2 medium yellow onions, chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, grated; 2 fresh red chiles, chopped; 4 links of cured chorizo sausage (not the fresh stuff), cut into bite-sized pieces; 2 dried bay leaves; Tsp of cumin; Tsp smoked paprika; 1 cinnamon stick; ¾ C plus 2 TBS chicken stock; 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes; 6.5 C or so of spinach leaves; 2 cans of cooked chick peas, drained; Salt and pepper.

**Wikipedia informs me that Alaskan Pollock is the main ingredient in McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwich. The Pollock is a strong-tasting white fish, similar to cod or haddock.

Note: Saffron is a key element in the look of the dish – splurge on it. If you buy your onions at Giant Eagle where they are the size of soft-balls, one will do. Do grate the garlic – it is a way to infuse great flavor without ever drifting toward garlicky. Red chiles – Fresno chiles or red jalapenos are what you will find at the market, but you can use green jalapenos when the red aren’t available. Cured chorizo can be found packaged – 4 links – in the bacon-sausage refrigerator at most stores. One bag of spinach will give you the right amount.   Kerridge uses 5.5 oz. of dried chickpeas and soaks them overnight – if you choose to do that, add your soaked chickpeas to the stew when you add the tomatoes.

Curing the fish (1.5 – 2 hours):

Mix the salt and saffron together. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap (longer than your filet) on the counter. (If, like me, you find it infuriating to work with plastic wrap, laying this out will be the most difficult part of the recipe – it’s all downhill from here). Sprinkle half of the saffron salt on the plastic wrap, lay the filet on the salt and sprinkle the rest of the salt on top of the fish. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for 2 hours (1.5 at least).

Cooking the stew:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch Oven over medium. Add the onions, grated garlic, and chiles and cook about 5 minutes (until the onions are soft). Add the chorizo and cook about 5 minutes (the red paprika oil should have rendered out of the sausage by then). Stir in bay leaves, cumin, paprika and cinnamon stick and cook about 4 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil, put in the oven (without a lid) and cook for 45 minutes.  Toward the end of the 45 minutes, rinse the fish under cold running water and pat it dry. Remove the stew from the oven (do not turn off oven) and season with salt and pepper.   Stir in the chickpeas (if using pre-cooked), then place the fish on top of the stew and return the pot to the oven and cook until the fish is done (it will flake easily) – about 14 minutes or longer.

Lift the fish onto a serving platter. Stir the spinach into the stew until it is just wilted. Ditch the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Spoon the stew around the fish and have your mates dig into this proper Friday dinner.

The blistered tomatoes (shown in the picture) are just some cherry tomatoes tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted at 475F until some have burst – about 10 minutes. Some crusted county bread (toasted if it’s not crusty enough) would be go nicely with this and help to sop up the stew.

Extra: Unless you are as in love with your current meat loaf recipe as Narcissus was with himself, you should try the Polpetonne alla Toscana. You can contact me for the recipe or wait until I nominate it as the keeper of the week. And the Mushroom and Kale Minestrone is a knockout.  And the spicy kale which we had with roasted chicken almost turned me into a vegan:

Chicken with spicy Tuscan kale