A simple fish stew that works for many occasions

Mussels or prawns can be added for a more indulgent version of this Portuguese fish stew

I first made this dish, aged 14, for my Junior Cert home economics practical exam. I’ll never forget it because I made it so many times in the lead-up. My entire family had to endure countless variations, with chilli flakes, basil, or too much black pepper. My final version was fairly basic and I was delighted to serve it up with a sprig of curly parsley, picked from my parents’ garden that morning.

I had excellent home economics teachers. Ms McSweeney brought in star fruit for us for one exam, and we all garnished our breakfast dishes with it. She really brought the subject to life with her creativity. Mrs Hurley had seen everything in her years teaching, so no question was too basic for her as she saw us all making the same rookie mistakes, setting tea towels alight and letting pans of milk boil over. Her reactions were always calm and measured so as not to discourage us.

I try to be the same now with my children. My eldest is seven, and I love seeing him learning the ropes in the kitchen. He loves combining flavours and creating recipes of his own. I hope he will go on to study home economics in secondary school. Cooking is a skill for life, and often school is the only place where children are allowed free rein in the kitchen.

This stew is extremely versatile. If you can’t find fresh fennel bulbs, then use celery or leeks. I sometimes add a handful of finely chopped curly kale or spinach to the stew just before adding the fish. The potatoes add heartiness and soak up all of the delicious sauce. I’ve used sweet potatoes before too, just watch they don’t overcook.

Instead of potatoes you could tumble in some pasta shells, in keeping with the nautical theme. A few mussels or prawns can be added too for a more indulgent version. I often make the base of this stew the night before we want to eat it and reheat it before adding the fish as a finishing touch. It freezes really well, too.

Portuguese fish stew

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

½ yellow pepper

½ fennel bulb, finely chopped

2 large carrots, finely diced

1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed

100ml wine (red or white)

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

500ml stock

4 x rooster potatoes, in 3cm cubes

4 fillets white fish (hake, pollock or cod)

4 tbsp flour

2 tbsp fresh parsley

Sea salt

To serve: lemon wedges and crusty white bread

Method

1 Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large heavy-based pan. Sauté the onion till soft.

2 Add the yellow pepper, fennel and carrot. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.

3 Add the crushed fennel seed and stir. Cook for a minute until fragrant before adding the wine. Leave the sauce simmer and the alcohol burn off before adding the stock and chopped tomatoes. Season to taste.

4 Add the cubed potatoes. Simmer gently until the potatoes are just about cooked. Lower the heat.

5 Heat one tablespoon of oil in a wide frying pan. Dust the fish fillets in a little flour and fry for a minute or two on each side.

6 Stir the parsley gently into the fish stew then lay the lightly fried fish on top. Place the lid back on and leave it simmer for a further five minutes till the fish is cooked.

7 Ladle into bowls and top with pieces of flaked fish, fresh parsley and a wedge of lemon. Serve with crusty bread.