fish stew with fennel and potatoes

Recipe in progress. A delightful fish stew from the current @bonappetit magazine. I'm tweaking it heavily but the premise it delightful.

Friends, I’m in the deep throes of stitching together a book before I send it to my co-authors for review and edits, before we send it to our editor by August 1. There’ve been lots of early mornings that involve editing and shower comes as a reward for finishing a chapter or a task. This shower as reward thing works only so well because when I’m sitting on the couch writing, no one, that is besides Forrest and a few house flies that have somehow gotten into the apartment, can judge me. Of course, there’s me judging me but I’ve lived with myself for the past 36 years, so I can take it.

Remarkably, this past weekend involved little book work (!) and lots of home improvement. We’re slowly painting our apartment white – as the previous owner thought that a yellow cream in gloss is the way to go. Additionally, the previous owners must have been smokers, or something, because the molding on the bottom turned a sickly shade of yellow. Not to mention, the previous painters (from a few paint jobs ago) didn’t believe in borders, and a part of the floor that’s next to the molding is where there are remnants of this yellowing paint. Kind of makes me want to demolish the walls and start anew but that is not in our budget (not to mention probably is a violation of our co-op rules).


So, Saturday and Sunday, because we spent our 4th of July at Home Depot researching balcony doors and what it’ll take to the the door and the frame a lot (hint: a lot of $$$!), we painted: first a coat of crisp white (three cheers for Benjamin Moore Super White!!) and then the molding and details a dark, charcoal grey. All this takes a remarkable amount of time and – whenever dark paint is involved – precision.

Fish stew with potatoes and fennel

Whenever summer rolls around, I’m wildly envious of people who seem to spend all their weekends in the park, by the lake, on the beach, in a cabin – you get the idea. Somehow, especially since I’ve assumed this new life as a writer, there are always things to be done and weekends are filled with work, tasks, and errands. Home ownership, it seems, adds on to those tasks by a huge margin. It never sounds cool to answer the question, “How was your long weekend?” with a “Well, we painted our dining room and researched balcony doors and in-wall a/c units.”

So, lacking any awesome summer stories thus far, I’ve another fish recipe for your weeknight cooking. I promise you, we’re eating a lot more than just fish these days (and I’ll share one with you soon), but this recipe, it’s a keeper just like the salmon I wrote about recently. We’ve been making this stew since about April (the picture at the very top was taken on April 18), and it is on regular rotation in our kitchen. What’s even more remarkable is that while most fish dishes make for terrible leftovers (that salmon being an exception as it’s marvelous served cold over a salad the following day), this dish improves with an overnight rest. And that’s something.

Fish Stew with Fennel and Potatoes
Liberally adapted from Bon Appetit

The first time I made the stew, it was comforting but a bit bland. So I took some liberties and kicked it up in the flavor department. I added some shallots for mellow sweetness, and lemon juice in the end, to brighten up a lovely but somewhat lackluster sauce. When I doubled the recipe (I don’t think that the initial amount can comfortably feed 4 people – more like 2), I took the oil and garlic down a notch as both seemed a bit too heavy. Having made pretty regularly for the last four months or so, I can say that this dish works wonders with young spring garlic or garlic scapes. If you’re making this in the dead of winter, go easy on the garlic – as it can be quite dominant a flavor.

1/3 cup olive oil
3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound small waxy potatoes (such as baby Yukon Gold), scrubbed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 large fennel bulb, finely chopped
3 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup crème fraîche
3 pounds skinless flounder or fluke fillet, cut into 4-inch pieces (cod and hake can also work)
4 to 5 sprigs plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, divided
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook shallots, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add potatoes, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, about 3 minutes. Add fennel and garlic; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until fennel is soft, about 2 minutes. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes.

2. Add 3 cups water to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, 12 to 15 minutes (err on the more cooked side for potatoes, they can retain their firmness a bit longer). Stir in crème fraîche. Add flounder and dill sprigs, cover pot, and reduce heat. Simmer until fish is cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes. Fish out dill sprigs from stew and discard. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped dill.

Serves 4.


  • Brian

    Trust me you aren’t the only ones who seem to spend your long weekends doing domestic projects!
    As for those weekends away or escapes from the city, just plan them and go. Take that from a guy you was always working and now just plans it and goes. Make the time! Forrest will enjoy assisting you when you are writing at 3 or 4 AM, my cats always thought it was great that we were all up and about in the dark.
    Good luck on finishing the book.

  • olga

    Brian – unfortunately, I’ve never been one to stay up late at night. Early mornings is one thing – but late at night, I am pretty useless! Thanks for the support :)

  • Elinor Lipman

    This is the fish stew recipe I’ve been waiting for/dreaming of/needed–fish and fennel and not a scary start with fish heads and skeletons! Thank you!

  • olga

    Elinor – Hooray! So glad you like it. Let me know if you make it – what you think! xx

    Brian – I know, the stove at this time of year (ugh), but it takes almost no time so really not the worst way to make dinner. I overheat pretty easily and I find this one to be not terrible :)

  • dervla @ the curator

    yay, as you know I’m in the process of doing this too. I know i want the walls white but wasn’t sure about the moldings … part of me wants all smooth white, but i do love the idea of grey running along the bottom, too. Can’t wait to see what you’ve done (if you share on instagram)

  • olga

    Oh I should definitely post/share on Instagram. I’ve been so crazed this week and have been dealing what seems to be sciatica – which just totally threw me off my game! Also, our living room/dining room (LR/DR) are connected as one pretty long room with a semi arch/details to separate, so I thought it’d be a nice visual. Also, the DR gets no natural light (other than what might spill over from the LR where windows face east) so I read in a bunch of places that giving the room some dark accents actually brightens it up. I would’ve gone for nearly black paint but Andrew is unconvinced that graphic is the way to go (he’s wrong of course, but – marriage!) so it’s dark slate grey which I also like. Compromise! The thing that’s still making the room meh (and is driving me UP THE WALL) is the ceiling light that is SO G-D AWFUL and has a horrible yellow fluorescent bulb. It’s not that easy to swap things out because… stupid previous owner had those GU24 connectors for bulbs, so we either change the whole fixture, start to finish, or something. We’re doing things in stages partly because we’ve about 2k of expenses coming with a/c replacement and balcony door replacement. It’s all a bit nuts. Sorry to go on and on here!

  • Jules @ WolfItDown

    As stereotypically as this will be (considering I’m a Norwegian and according to most of the world, we live entirely off of fish…apparently :P) I’ll say that this looks absolutely wonderful! Such a hearty dish, and I am sure that with your tweaks, it tastes amazing :D
    You’ve got a great blog, and I’m wishing you all the best with the book and the renovations :) x

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