Bucking tradition and ringing in the New Year with a little help from the French!
I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, home to an eclectic group of European immigrants – German, Polish, Italian, English. As a kid, my mother told me I was Pennsylvania Dutch, so I thought that meant that my people were from Holland …which didn’t really make sense considering that I come from the Walker and Schott clans. Later I realized that Dutch was really Deutsch….ahhh! Now it came together. A little deeper dive helped me trace my Scottish and German roots on both sides of the family tree.
What does all this have to do with New Year’s Food? Well, if you’ve ever been to Germany or Scotland, you’ll know that for all their charms, neither country is exactly a gourmet’s delight. Food traditions focus on the hale and hearty meals of starving peasants. Preparation is minimal and the results are predictably bland. In my family, and across Pennsylvania, thanks to the many Pennsylvania Dutch influences, New Year’s Day is all about pork and sauerkraut. In fact, it’s considered bad luck to eat anything else on New Year’s Day.
What do the “lucky” get to eat? Pork cooked in buckets of sauerkraut in a slow oven all day, sometimes with dumplings and always served with mashed potatoes.
As a kid, I hated the whole meal. The only saving grace were the hot dogs my mother threw in at the last minute (from which I carefully cleaned off the offending sauerkraut) and of course the mashed potatoes – covered in huge chunks of butter. It was, to my tender tastebuds, an altogether disgusting way to start the New Year. As time went by, my aversion to pickled cabbage products waned a bit, and I even stopped scraping the sauerkraut off my dog. But I never learned to love the pork (ech!).
When I started creating my own New Year’s traditions, my focus was on New Year’s Eve. We’ve had legendary parties. My husband wears a tux, and I get glammed up. We serve lots of drinks, there’s dancing, sometimes fireworks, and food, lots of food: a slew of appetizers and sometimes a smoked turkey, other times with a completely Mexican theme, and yet others with all Italian apps and entrees. It’s a fun way to ring in the New Year. New Year’s Day is traditionally spent nursing the hangover, eating leftovers, and cleaning up the mess.
Lately however, big parties have seemed like a particularly bad idea. Instead, I’ve been making a quiet dinner for a few friends. The menu has been some version of Bouillabaisse, bread, and a salad. It’s a decidedly understated way to say goodbye (good riddance?) to the old and hello to the new.
Bouillabaisse is a French fish stew. The ingredients and prep vary based on the region and just how much of a martyr you are to make the broth. My martyrdom only goes so far. After trying the full-blown stew recipe from Marseille that takes 3 days of attention and costs a fortune to make, and the literally watered-down versions from various cookbooks, I’ve finally found my favorite fish stew, based on a couple of different recipes from Ina Garten. (The Barefoot Contessa is a legendary cook, and her recipes never fail!)
My variation on her dish is a 4-step recipe that is fairly easy, if a bit time consuming, to make:
- Make good seafood stock (don’t skip this step even if you manage to get to Trader Joe’s and find a shortcut)
- Make your soup stock
- Prepare the toasts
- Add the fish and seafood and serve!
Try it! None of the steps are hard, the ingredients are flexible, it can mostly be prepared ahead, and your guests, even the fish haters and French snobs, will love it. I think that even Vivienne would approve.
And I promise that you won’t feel the least bit unlucky!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Shells from 1 pound large shrimp
- 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
- 2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme, including stems
- Warm the oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells, onions, carrots, and celery and saute for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add 1 1/2 quarts of water, the white wine, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Strain through a sieve, pressing the solids. You should have approximately 1 quart of stock. You can make up the difference with water or wine if you need to.
ORIGINAL RECIPE CAN BE FOUND IN: “BAREFOOT IN PARIS” BY INA GARTEN. PUBLISHED BY CLARKSON POTTER, 2004
PROVENÇAL FISH STEW WITH HOT PEPPER ROUILLE
Make it ahead: Prepare the soup stock, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. When ready to serve, reheat the stock, stir in the fish and mussels, and finish the recipe.
- 6 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
- 1½ cups (¾-inch-diced) Holland yellow bell pepper (1 large)
- 2½ cups (½-inch-diced) fennel bulb (1 large)
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 oil-packed anchovies, drained and minced
- ¼ cup minced garlic (8 large cloves)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons Pernod
- 3 cups good seafood stock
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, such as San Marzano
- 1 (1 x 3-inch) strip of orange zest
- ¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3 oranges)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ pounds fresh halibut or monkfish fillets, skinned and cut in 2-inch dice
- 1 pound shrimp (I use the shrimp whose shells created the stock)
- 20 Littleneck clams
- 36 fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- ¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 12 large diagonal slices of French bread, toasted
- Hot Pepper Rouille (recipe follows)
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the onion, bell pepper, fennel, saffron, and red pepper flakes and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
- Add the anchovies and garlic and cook for one minute, stirring occasionally.
- Add the wine and Pernod, bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the seafood stock, tomatoes, orange zest, orange juice, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1½ teaspoons black pepper.
- Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Discard the orange zest and stir in the shrimp and halibut.
- Raise the heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, until the fish just begins to flake. (Don’t stir from now on, or you will break up the fish!)
- Place the mussels and clams on top, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, until the mussels just open. (Discard any that don’t open.)
- Gently fold in the parsley and serve hot in large shallow bowls with 2 slices of toasted French bread spread generously with the Sriracha Rouille.
HOT PEPPER ROUILLE
Rouille is a garlicky mayonnaise that’s traditionally served on toast or spooned into bouillabaisse. I added some Calabrian pepper paste (yes, it’s Italian, but honestly, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Italy from Marseille), and it’s wonderful with the Fish Stew.
MAKES ¾ CUP
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeeze lemon juice, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon Calabrian Hot Pepper sauce or Hot Pepper pesto
- 1 cup good olive oil, at room temperature
- Place the garlic, salt, and saffron in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree. Add the egg yolk, lemon juice, and Sriracha, and process for 5 to 7 seconds.
- With the machine running, gradually pour the olive oil through the feed tube in a thin, steady stream to make a thick emulsion-like mayonnaise.
- Spread on toasted baguette slices and place on the stew before serving.
- Make it ahead: Prepare and refrigerate in a sealed container for up to a week.
ORIGINAL RECIPE CAN BE FOUND IN: “ MAKE AHEAD” BY INA GARTEN. PUBLISHED BY CLARKSON POTTER, 2014