Greek fisherman’s stew: kakavia

In An Evil Eye, the fourth Yashim mystery, Yashim and his friend Palewski are invited to share a meal with some Greek fishermen. I’ve promised to give the recipe, so here it is. It contains one ingredient that sparks off a considerable debate about whether it is good for you, or not. I leave it to you to guess which one!

The main thing about making kakavia is to stay relaxed. You’ll make a fish stock using heads and bones (fishmongers call them ‘frames’, and give them away), a sofrito as a base, and then put in the fish to cook. If you like mussels, for instance, use them too. It’s catch-of-the-day stuff,nothing set in stone, but don’t use oily fish like salmon or mackerel.

The stock – easy. Just simmer a bunch of heads and bones in a pint or two of water, along with a pinch of salt, a few peppercorns and a bayleaf.

That’ll take about half an hour, so now you can get the sofrito underway. This is my favourite bit, because you can use your imagination to throw in anything you like, if you think it will be tasty – chilli if you want, chopped leek maybe, garlic (I would), and thyme. A few sliced potatoes are good – put them in as soon as the onion begins to soften. It’s really useful to have a heavy-bottomed pan, like a casserole, to take this part slowly – melt two or three sliced onions in olive oil until they turn clear, even a bit sticky, and then stir in a few chopped tomatoes, and simmer it down. I believe that a high-sided pan is best for this. So does Yashim.

Look to your fish. You might have 2-3 lbs (a generous kilo) of mullet, cod, hake, bass in any combination, but try to keep a mix of fish; have it filleted – skinned, too, if you like – and keep the pieces at least an inch square, or bigger.

When the stock is done, strain it into the sofritto – all hissing steam and then a comfortable bubble. Use as much stock as you want, depending how soupy you’d like this kakavia to be. I make it thick, so that it can be soaked up with bread, because the children seem to weary of eating soup. Not Yashim’s problem, of course.

Now stir the fish pieces into the stewing pan and simmer them for about ten minutes, till done but not collapsing. Mussels five minutes before the end, if you use them.

Good bread, squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper on the table.

Καλή σας όρεξη! Bon appetit…

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