Back in April I arrived in Ireland with all my worldly possessions packed into two suitcases, including my cherished copper fish poacher. Snatched up at a second-hand shop, it’s one of my favorite finds. I especially love the detail in the handles shaped like fins and the tiny metal fish perched atop the lid. The hours leading up to our flight were fairly traumatic as I tried to stuff the few belongings I hadn’t sold into our unforgiving luggage. At the last minute clothes were thrown out and tough decisions were made as I lingered over what I couldn’t bear to leave behind. It’s a strange thing, parting with all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. I dove into the process head first, fully committed to the idea of starting over. In the end, it is “just stuff,” but to this day I do grieve letting certain things go. A friend advised us not to put our home in a storage unit because that makes it harder. She said keeping memories stored in the States is like keeping part of your heart there and you’ve got to make the leap into a new life without reservation or you’ll never have a fighting chance. Our possessions mean home, and home is where the heart is.
Mostly, my heart is in Ireland. Remember back in June when I told you I was yearning for the sultry heat of summer? Well July granted my wish with a heat wave that will go down in Irish history. Now my pale skin is a perfect shade of golden tan and the intense, muggy heat has brought memories of my childhood home in the Southern United States flooding back. I realize that in my brain Arkansas is a land of eternal summer, oppressively hot and humid. I remember taking cold showers only to be hot and sweaty again in minutes. It’s funny to miss something I used to complain about constantly: the heat. But I do miss it, just like I miss lightning bugs and barbecues and my family.
The recipe for Poached Fish with Tomato-Saffron Broth and Garden Vegetables was inspired by memories of steamy Southern heat and heady aromas of a garden in full bloom. This is a recipe for the heat of summer, when tomatoes hang heavily on the vine and your garden is bursting with fresh herbs. Poached fish may sound fancy, but it’s a fool proof technique of cooking fish by gently simmering it in broth for a few minutes. Any firm white-fleshed fish will do: cod, halibut, monkfish or whatever is freshest at the market. Embrace the lazy summer haze and don’t worry about being too precise– toss in a handful of herbs, sloppily chop the tomatoes and nonchalantly add the four cloves of garlic. Serve the delicate pieces of fish over a quick cooking grain, like bulgur or couscous, with generous spoonfuls of saffron-infused broth and garden vegetables.
Poached Fish with Tomato-Saffron Broth and Garden Vegetables
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 medium-sized zucchini (weighing about 6 ounces), thinly sliced
- 1 1/4 pounds very ripe tomatoes, an assortment of cherry tomatoes and heirloom varieties
- 1/2 cup homemade chicken stock (or water)
- A handful of fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 large filet of cod, halibut, monkfish or other firm white fleshed fish (weighing about 1 to 1 1/3 pounds), bones removed
- Sea salt
Heat the olive oil over medium on the stovetop in a fish poacher or other large pan that has a lid. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your knife and toss them into the warm oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, allowing the garlic to become golden and caramelized (about 5 minutes). Add the leeks and zucchini slices and cook until tender (5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Roughly chop the tomatoes, leaving some of the cherry tomatoes whole for a variety of textures. Add the tomatoes to the pan with a couple pinches of salt and stir to combine all the ingredients. Pour over the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir in the saffron and 1 tablespoon of chopped basil leaves.
Place the fish on top of the simmering liquid, turn the heat down to low and put the lid on the pot. If the fish is too large to fit in the pot, cut it into manageable pieces. The liquid should gently simmer, not boil. Poach the fish until it flakes easily with a fork and appears opaque throughout, 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt at the end of cooking.
To serve, divide the fish into four portions using a spatula. Serve the fish over delicate bulgur wheat or couscous with the vegetables from the pan, a spoonful of the aromatic broth and a few leaves of basil.