Giacomelli's Vermentino Meets Fish Stew

Posted by CrushWine

Vermentinos are such rich, complex whites with such big acidities that they marry very well to finessed winter fare. To plow through the winter blues, Joe, Chris and I got together last week to indulge in Giacomelli Vermentinos - both the regular Colli di Luni bottling as well as Giacomelli's first-ever, single-vineyard "Boboli" - with a menu from the wickedly intelligent culinary mind's eye of Joe Salamone.

The big pairing of the night was Giacomelli with Bourride, the famous fish stew of Nice. Granted, this is not exactly Italian, but Nice does border Liguria - close enough for our purposes. Though Liguria is the land of great pesto, the thought of basil in late-February NYC was enough to keep us away and looking for other options. Fish stew from Nice, there you go. It proved to be a really nice match up, the depth of the flavors in the stew provided an excellent foil to both of the rich and complex Giacomellis.

Bourride:"Nice" Fish Stew
Fish Stock
For any fish stew, your own fish stock is critical. Don't be scared of fish heads, they are your friends.

Here's what you'll need for the stock: 2 fish heads, a quarter pound of squid, a quarter pound of shrimp, 1 bulb of fennel (with fronds coarsely chopped), 2 leeks (white only, coarsely chopped), a lemon slice (about the size of your pinky), 1 carrot (peeled and coarsely chopped), 2 celery stalks (with leaves coarsely chopped) and 2 packets of powdered saffron.

Making stock is pretty simple: Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a stock pot and put under medium heat. Then add fennel, celery, leeks, carrots and a pinch of salt; cook but don't brown - probably about 10 minutes. Add 24 ounces of water and the fish heads, squid, shrimp, lemon, a bunch of fennel fronds and the saffron. Simmer for 1 hour or so; strain and pass through a cheese cloth to filter out the gook and voila! Your very own fish stock.

The most challenging part of this recipe will be mastering the consistency of the aioli - a dicey little number involving a mortar and pestle and patience with olive oil. That said, the reward of a job well done is worth it; in Provence they refer to aioli as "a little bit of sunshine" - the picture below probably gives you some idea why. In any event, a little bit of sunshine is a nice ingredient to have in the cold doldrums of winter.

Here's what you'll need for the Aioli: 3-4 cloves of garlic (depending on size), 3 egg yolks (preferably free range and fresh), 6 ounces of high quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably from Liguria or Provence; though Sicilian works well) and a lemon.

Now, to make this all happen, put the 3 or so garlic cloves in a mortar, add a pinch of salt, and then, using the pestle, mash the garlic into a fine pulp. Once you have your garlic pulp, add the three egg yolks and mash all this goodness together. Add a dash of pepper for good luck. Now, here's where the artistry resides: Add the olive oil drop by drop at first - patience will do you well. Go drop by drop for close to the first half of the oil, mashing and mushing the whole time. The aioli will start to thicken and firm up. As it thickens, you can pour in the olive oil in a slow and steady stream. Once aioli has thickened, add a squirt of lemon juice and fold in. Move this to a bowl; we'll add it to the fish stock after we've poached the fish.

Putting it all Together
Once you have your Aioli aside in a bowl, go ahead and bring your fish stock to a simmer and put in your fish fillets - Halibut or Turbot will work swell. Poach them well, making sure they're basically covered by the fish stock - 15 minutes should do it. Transfer the fish fillets to a plate and keep them warm in the oven.

Now the magic: Turn up the heat and reduce the fish stock by about a third and add a splash of cream - let's say 2 to 3 ounces. Now it's time to add the aioli. The best way to start is to pour a small amount of stock into the aioli to temper it; then you can add the aioli to the stock and slowly stir it all in. The consistency should be creamy. Stand back, inhale and marvel at the wonder.

To serve, put the fish in a bowl (we also boiled some small potatoes - La Ratte to be exact - to add to the mix), pour the stock/aioli mixture over the fish, garnish with fennel fronds and enjoy with Giacomelli!