16 November 2009

Fish on Friday

I adore Fish on Friday. I admit it is not exactly a “cookbook” in the most literal sense, but so much more. It is a scholarly tome subtitled Feasting, Fasting and the Discovery of the New World which combines history, religion, food, boatbuilding and environmental issues. Author Brian Fagan hypothesises that the discovery of the new world came about because of the spread of Christianity through the old world. The Church demanded "fish on Friday", causing an over fishing of local waters. The climate change further depleted fishing stock in Norway and Iceland. The demand for fish caused fishermen to develop better vessels to sail farther to fill the demand. Fagan writes:
"The elaboration of meals was a barometer of social standing as fine cooking became an art, particularly in regard to sauces using ingenious combinations of ingredients and the cooking juices of fish and meat. Haute cuisine was alive and well in Roman society, with its lavish banquets and magnificent displays of exotic foods, many of them from specific places of origin."
Here is one of the well researched recipes from the book.

Roman Seafood Stew

1 1/4 pounds fish fillet in bite-size pieces—ideally halibut or salmon
8 oz white wine, preferably a flowery tasting sauvignon blanc
17 oz beef broth
3 finely chopped leeks, including the green portion, well washed before chopping.
3 1/2 oz olive oil
1 3/4 oz fish sauce. A modern substitute is This Kitchen Premium fish Sauce, which is widely available, but anchovy sauce or other Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce would also work.
1 handful finely chopped fresh coriander or cilantro
1 handful finely chopped lovage or celery hearts
Dried or fresh oregano to taste
Pepper and salt to taste

Combine all the liquid ingredients and bring to a slow simmer. Add the fish and simmer for about 10 minutes, varying the time according to the doneness you prefer.
Remove the fish with a slotted spoon to a warmed serving dish, bring the liquid to a boil until it reduces in volume, add the chopped leeks, cilantro, lovage, and oregano, also salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the seasoning and add to the fish.
Now you can have fish on Friday or Monday!

If you love scholarly books on esoteric subjects as I do, then read Fish on Friday, if not for information , then for the recipes tucked into the exposition.

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