The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star. John Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du Gout (Physiology of Taste) (1825)
Where do recipes come from? Family, community, tradition, and serendipitous accident are easy but incomplete answers.
The primary source of recipes has always been an individual cook’s imagination and palate. Over time, original recipes are modified by other cooks’ imaginations and adjusted by yet more cooks’ palates, to infinity and without limitation.
The food articles I enjoy most are ones that explain how a dish was developed or why a cook chose to combine certain flavors. Although its authors’ cooking styles and skills are quite different from my own, Ideas in Food is one of my favorite blogs. It focuses on the techniques and thought processes that go into creating unique flavor combinations.
I recently made Seafood and Vegetable Stew with Rouille. Here's how it came into being:
My kitchen counter was overflowing with garnet yams, bounty from more than one Full Circle Farms CSA box. I wanted to do something other than oven-roasting the yams or making oven fries. Looking for inspiration, I randomly pulled cookbooks off the shelves.
Barbara Kafka’s book Soup: A Way of Life had an interesting recipe for Fall Fish Stew that included sweet potatoes. I decided to try it.
My first version of the stew was similar to Kafka’s, though I substituted sautéed sweet potatoes for boiled and edamame beans for limas. After tasting the broth, I wanted more flavor.
In my next version, I added sautéed onions and red bell peppers, and used a different Rouille recipe than Kafka’s. I seasoned the Rouille with dried, ground red Moroccan pepper (poivron rouge). This version was tasty, but I thought it could be better.
In my final version, I added crushed fennel seeds and shelled shrimp. This combination was exactly what I wanted. Although inspired by Kafka, the final stew is uniquely my own.
I internet-orderedpoivron rouge from World Spice Merchants in Seattle, one of my favorite herb and spice purveyors. World Spice describes poivron rouge as “sweet red pepper … produced from sweet round red niora peppers grown in the lush valleys at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains to the northeast of Marrakech.“
Poivron Rouge and Sweet Hungarian Paprika
Although Moroccan recipes often call for paprika, niora peppers are what Moroccans use for “paprika.” The flavor of ground niora differs significantly from sweet Hungarian paprika. Niora is spicier and has a fruitier flavor than its Hungarian counterpart, which has a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Moroccan niora peppers are likely the same as the ñora peppers used in Romesco sauce and other Spanish and Catalonian dishes. In addition to having similar names, nioras and ñoras look the same. Most texts refer to nioras and ñoras only as members of the Capsicum annuum family; in other words, as domesticated peppers. However, in Catalan Cuisine, Colman Andrews says pepper scholar Charles Perry “thinks the nyora [ñora] pepper is the variety scientifically called Capsicum annuum grossum/provar. Pomiforme/sub-var. Conc. Humilirotundum Haz."
No matter what its scientific designation might be, poivron rouge has wonderful flavor and a permanent place in my spice cupboard. Its mildly spicy and fruity tastes make distinctively delicious Rouille and a mouth-wateringly good Seafood and Vegetable Stew.
The stew may also be made with just fish or just shrimp; if so, use 1 pound of either ingredient. Although not necessary, steamed rice is a nice complement to the spicy, aromatic broth. Serve the rice on the side so eaters can stir the amount they desire into the stew.
1 cup peeled, diced garnet yams or sweet potatoes, 1/2” dice (1 garnet yam)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced red bell pepper, 1/2” dice (1-2 peppers)
1 cup diced yellow onion, 1/2” dice
1 tsp. freshly crushed fennel seed
4 cups fish stock or clam broth (nectar)
1 recipe Rouille (see below)
1 cup shelled edamame beans (thawed) or fresh fava beans
1/2 pound skinless fillets of halibut, rockfish, cod, or other white-fleshed fish, cut in 3/4” pieces
1/2 pound shelled and cleaned shrimp, 16-20 count, halved crosswise
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
Minced parsley for garnish
Sauté the garnet yams in olive oil, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until they start to brown around the edges. Stir in the red bell peppers and onions, and continue to sauté until the onions soften. Add the crushed fennel seed and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the fish stock, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point.)
In a small bowl, whisk one cup of the hot broth into the Rouille. Stir this mixture into the simmering stew pot, along with the edamame beans, fish, and shrimp. Do not let boil or the Rouille may curdle. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until the seafood is cooked through. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste and add salt or lemon juice, as needed.
Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve immediately with steamed rice and wedges of lemon.
Recipe adapted from In the Hands of a Chef by Jody Adams
Rouille goes well with all fish, and is a tasty addition to fish salads. The recipe may be doubled or tripled and keeps for a week in the refrigerator.
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. poivron rouge or sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Put the egg yolk, mustard, and lemon juice in a blender and mix well. While the blender is running, add the vegetable oil drop by drop so that it emulsifies with the other ingredients. While the blender is running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until the Rouille is very smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender to ensure all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
This is my recipe for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Dee from The Daily Tiffin.