Transported

Nothing draws me in faster these days than books, movies, and food from other cultures, especially those set in sunny seaside locations.

Number One on my list:  Greece and its many idyllic islands.

Agistri, courtesy Kernpanik 

What a package to contemplate. Glistening beaches, deep blue seas, craggy mountains, a vast history of innovative, resilient people, and magnificent cuisine. Ah, the sun drenched food: the hand-crafted cheeses, the olives and their oils, glorious fruits and vegetables, and the seafood.

On My Greek Table recently, Diane Kochilas whipped up a fascinating version of avgolemono soup laced with fresh fish. It stayed with me and kept replaying in my head… Yes, I should eat more fish, I need this soup.

At its core, avgolemono is a classic Greek soup thickened with eggs and a lively amount of lemon juice—teamed with fish is surely a heavenly match.  As much as I would love to tackle a whole fresh fish like the one Diane tossed around, they are hard to come by.  I’d be lucky to find fresh fish fillets.

I’d adjust my plan, settle on a slightly less authentic version and be happy with rock fillets.  For a modified stock I’d improvise and incorporate a couple bottles of briny, easy-to-find clam broth (usually stocked in the canned fish section).

The soup base starts with a quick sauté of onion and other vegetables, a bay leaf is added, and it’s all simmered with clam stock. Then, fish fillets are layered in for a brief poach and stock boost. When firm to the touch, the fish is pulled to cool and remove any lurking pin bones. The stock volume is increased to accommodate addition of the traditional rice component and cooked until tender.

For the emulsion process, the eggs and lemon juice are whisked together (cornstarch can be included to further ensure soup binding) and tempered with hot stock. It is then poured into the hot soup and stirred in one direction (this motion ensures a smooth consistency) until it becomes thick, silky and bright—hallmarks of this legendary soup.

Greece in a bowl

Finally, fish pieces are re-warmed in the pot and the soup is ladled into waiting bowls.  Finish it with a dusting of fresh dill or marjoram and pass more lemon.

In spite of alterations the soup retains its winsome character—blithely brimming with essence of sun and sea—thanks to the magical egg and lemon emulsion.

Avgolemono Fish Soup

Inspired by Diane Kochilas, My Greek Table.  Chicken and chicken broth can be substituted for fish ingredients.

Ingredients
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chop
1 stalk celery, chop
1 medium carrot, peel, chop
1 clove garlic, mince
6-7 cups fish fumet, clam stock/water, divided
1 bay leaf
¾ lb fresh fish, rock or other firm fleshed fish
salt and pepper
½ cup rice, basmati is good
3 eggs, room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, from 2-3 lemons
1 Tbsp cornstarch (optional)
fresh lemon and herbs such as dill or marjoram

Instructions

1.  In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent. Add the celery, carrot, and bay leaf and sauté briefly. Add 4 cups liquid and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes.
2.  At a low simmer, layer in the fish fillets, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover and poach for 10 minutes, until the fish is opaque. With a wide spatula, carefully remove fillets to holding plate to cool.
3.  Add rice and a pinch of salt; cover, reduce heat and simmer until done, approx. 12 minutes.
4.  Meanwhile remove any detritus and bones from the fish, break into smaller portions and set aside.
5.  When ready to serve, return stock to a simmer making certain there is at least 6 cups liquid.
6.  In mixing bowl, whisk eggs and lemon juice; cornstarch if using. With a ladle, slowly whisk in 1-2 cups hot stock, to temper.
7.  Pour the tempered mixture into the simmering soup; gently stir in one circular direction until it thickens, do not boil. Adjust seasoning, add the fish to warm.
8.  Ladle into bowls and top with fresh herbs and more lemon. Serves 3-4

Snapper Puttanesca: Pungent and Powerful

Red snapper, or rock fish, is generally regarded as one of our most sustainable fish.  Good old snapper is also one of the most reliable fish in the marketplace, as it has a sweet, mild flavor and just enough texture to keep it from falling apart while cooking.  So versatile, it blends with other seafood in fish soups and stews, and it is assertive enough to stand up to full-flavored sauces such as the highly touted Puttanesca.

Snapper Puttanesca
Snapper Puttanesca

Known as an ultra-fast fix for pasta, our tomato-based sauce starts with the usual olive oil and garlic sauté.  A couple of anchovies are mashed about to melt and dissolve into the oil and virtually disappear, only to leave behind the mysterious essence that keeps us begging for more. Diced tomatoes are introduced for a quick simmer along with olives, capers, and as much hot red pepper flakes as you can bear. Point it up with a bit of lemon, if you like.

The snapper fillets are added to the pan and it’s all tucked into the oven for a quick braise—just enough time to set the table, find salad, and pour your favorite beverage. 

Braised Red Snapper Puttanesca

Inspired by Fine Cooking, Make It Tonight

Ingredients
4 – 5 oz Red Snapper or Black Sea Bass fillets ( about 3/4″ thick)
salt and pepper

Puttanesca Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic
2 anchovy fillets, minced
2 – 14 oz canned diced tomatoes
3 ounces Kalamata olive, pitted, halved lengthwise (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon oregano or ½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Season fish with salt and pepper, and drizzle with lemon juice.
  2. For sauce:  In 12″ ovenproof skillet with cover, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the garlic, cooking to soften @ 1 minute. Add the anchovies, pressing and stirring to dissolve.
  3. Add tomatoes and liquid, olives, oregano, capers, and pepper flakes.  Bring to brisk simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are tender and sauce has thickened, @ 8 minutes.
  4. Nestle the fish in the sauce, spoon some over the fish.  Drizzle with remaining olive oil; cover and braise until almost cooked through, 10-15 minutes.
  5. Transfer to serving bowls. If liquid remains quickly reduce sauce; stir in 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice and spoon over the fish.  Serves 4