Let me put in a plug here for Harbor Fish Market, a wet, wavy-floored gem stashed like a tipsy uncle out on Custom House Wharf. Among its many delights is the whole-fish display, a giant bin of ice that looks like a fish museum re-curated every day without warning--eel, blue runner, John Dory. . . . I have been eyeing this display for weeks now, and finally I decided to buy a blue runner, which I knew nothing about but which was dirt-cheap and beautifully glossy and fresh.
So I stashed the fish in my backpack and hiked home, and two nights ago, Tom and I had poached blue runner with fennel sauce for dinner. We ate one fillet and Tom peeled off the second and packaged it for the fridge. Then he stashed the bones, tail, head, and poaching liquid in a stock pot and left it all for me to play with yesterday.
Here's where the marvels happened. I managed to put together what might be the best meal I have ever made, and it was based on this leftover blue runner, which is often, according to the Internet, used as bait, not dinner.
Portuguese Fish Stew
Make fish stock: Combine and simmer leftover fish bones, head, tail, and poaching liquid along with about 1 quart of fresh water, 1 carrot, and half a head of garlic. Let cook for about an hour. Strain out the solids, making sure to press out the soft garlic. Reserve 3 cups of stock and freeze the rest for later.
In a stockpot, fry up a 1/2 pound of diced linguica in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add 1 diced onion and 1 diced red pepper. Salt lightly.
Meanwhile, peel and dice 3 fresh tomatoes and 4 medium-sized potatoes. Add them to the stockpot.
Now stir in 1/2 cup of white wine, 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of thyme, the reserved stock, 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper, a pinch of salt, and a grinding of pepper. Simmer for about a half-hour or until the potatoes are tender.
Add (but scrub them first) 2 pounds of the best mussels you can find. (I used Bangs Island mussels, rope-grown right here in Casco Bay, at the recommendation of the shopper standing next to me. She was right. And they weren't very expensive.) Then add (after scrubbing) 1 pound of small clams. (We used mud clams because they were cheap and little.)
Let the shellfish cook for about 5 minutes or until the mussels begin to open. Now stir in the chopped reserved blue runner fillet and 1 bunch of chopped fresh cilantro.
Ladle into soup plates and serve with chunks of French bread. Watch your loved one swoon with happiness. I'm not sure how to describe the depth and complexity of the broth. It was like nothing I'd ever made before. The two of us could not stop marveling.