It’s cold. In some places really, really cold. This is where chowders and bisques come into their own. Out at sea, these are the type of stews that nourish fishermen when they duck out from the frosty air to restore their warmth. What’s more, these dishes can often be made from trim, shells and some of the trickier discards from preparing other dishes. Knowing how to bring together a solid bisque, pays tribute to the whole animal, and is a way to keep your yield up on fresh product.
Whether you’re hitting your bisque up with a splash of Pernod and a few good glugs of Tabasco, or keeping things clean and simple with a celery heavy mirepoix, the strained broth of crab, langoustine and lobster offers up great depth of flavour. These are the earthy, mineral rich flavours you find in brown crab fat, the strong notes that hit the roof of your mouth like Marmite, but coat your tongue like silk.
Chowders are a heavier affair. Between the use of milk or cream, and the addition of crunched up crackers, this is the kind of fish stew that loads you up, but heats you like a radiator. It’s a substantial, comforting winter dish that braces you against the weather. Cod, haddock and coley are the usual suspects in this one, with smoked haddock often used to add that smoky depth and loft of flavours. If you’re dealing with whole fish, be sure to chop out the cheeks as these little pucks of flesh can sing in stews. As you probably know already, shellfish can work pretty well in chowders too, along the coastline of New England, the states north of New York, you’ll get New England clam chowder for as little as a few dollars, and you’re as likely to find it in a takeaway Styrofoam cup as a porcelain bowl. However it comes, a handful of mini crackers is compulsory.
Bouillabaisse is what all the other fish stews want to be when they grow up. This French classic hails from Marseille and is an old fisherman’s favourite that was originally made to use up fish that wouldn’t sell, the ugly culprits mainly being bony rockfish such as red rascasse and gurnard. The traits of this dish that are looked for by experts and Michelin inspectors, is the presence of rascasse, the freshness of the fish, good quality olive oil, and the perfumed flavour saffron.
Though not strictly a stew, the Goan fish curry is a masterful way to celebrate seafood and the warming spices penetrate the fish in unique and remarkable ways. This spicy number is just as comforting on a cold British afternoon, as our Scottish MSC Mussels in Tomato, Chorizo and Smoked Paprika Sauce. It’s the gentle heat of spices and the slick sauce that lingers on the palate that make these two work so well in winter.
So whether you’re looking to play with classic chowders, or searching for something like our pre-prepared Scottish MSC Mussels in Bisque Sauce, stewing and currying seafood will offer great rewards this winter.