Ginger-Tomato Fish Stew
Inspired by flavors from North Africa and Mediterranean Europe, this fish stew is filling but not heavy. It’s made with water instead of stock, its flavor built by layering aromatics and spices — and not least, by the fish itself. Ground ginger plays a supporting role, adding both earthy and bright notes, but lending its signature heat. We like to serve this soup with a green salad and big pieces of toast rubbed with oil and garlic.
1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed
8 ounces firm, white fish fillets, such as cod
2 tablespoons sea salt, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup thinly sliced garlic
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed, well-drained, and patted dry with a towel*
½ large onion, thinly sliced into crescents
½ cup minced celery
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
2½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, cracked
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large Yukon gold potato, scrubbed, cut in ¾-inch cubes
1 cup good-quality tomato purée
1 strip orange peel (no pith)
1 bay leaf
1 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon good-quality red wine vinegar
1 pinch scotch bonnet chile (optional)
Steam the sweet potato until it’s tender but still firm, 15-20 minutes. Set it aside until it has cooled enough to handle. Pull off the skin, then cut the flesh into
¾-inch cubes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Fill a large bowl with 2 cups of water, add a handful of ice and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Add the fish and soak for 15 minutes to firm, freshen, and season the fish. Drain off the water and pat the fish dry with a towel, then cut it into large, bite-sized chunks. Set aside.
Put the oil and sliced garlic into a heavy-bottomed soup pot and set it over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is just starting to take on a golden hue. Tip the pot and use a slotted spoon to scoop the garlic out of the oil and into a small bowl. Return the pot to the heat and add the chickpeas, sprinkle with a
¼ teaspoon of the salt. Cook them, stirring, until they take on a little color, 3–4 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to scoop them out of the oil and into the bowl with the garlic.
Add the onions and celery to the pot and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring until they are tender and translucent, 5–6 minutes. Stir in the thyme, ginger, fennel seeds, and black pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the Yukon gold potato, stir, and cook for another 2 minutes, then stir in the tomato purée, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the orange peel and bay leaf plus 3½ cups warm water and the remaining salt. Stir to combine.
Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a vigorous boil, then reduce the heat slightly so the soup boils more gently. Cook until the potatoes are just done, 7–10 minutes. (Test a piece at 7 minutes, you want the potatoes cooked but not mushy.) Reduce the heat to low.
Stir the reserved garlic, chickpeas, and sweet potato into the soup. The pot should now be barely simmering. Add the fish and parsley; stir gently to submerge the fish and simmer for about 4 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through. Stir in the vinegar. Taste the soup and adjust with additional salt, black pepper, or vinegar if needed. For more heat, add ground chile by the pinchful to taste.
The soup can be made ahead and cooled but reheat it gently to avoid toughening the fish.
* Tip: After you rinse and drain the chickpeas (about half a 14-ounce can), transfer them to a clean tea towel. Fold one edge of the towel over the chickpeas. Use your palms, resting on top of the towel, to gently roll the chickpeas back and forth for just for a minute. Some chickpeas will have lost their skins— don’t add those to the soup (but don’t stress about picking them out entirely).