Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Water Souchy

Water Souchy, when you get right down to it, is fish in water with a bit of parsley.

Putting it like that makes the whole enterprise seem fairly pointless, if not a bit gross. But Water Souchy, like a classic Italian three ingredient tomato sauce, is beautiful in its simplicity. The parsley hides the sometimes muddy flavour of river fish, while the plain broth keeps the fish deliciously moist and tender as you and your family serve yourselves fishy titbits. It is a great addition to the modern table, and one that I haven't even heard a whisper about before reading the recipe below from 1865.

According to the excellent website Foods of England, the dish probably has Dutch origins, and was originally 'waterzootje'. Google translates this as "water mess" (Dutch readers, please feel free to correct me!). They go on to say that the dish may have arrived in England with William III of Orange, who is better known as the namesake of the Irish Orange Order than he is for simple fish preparations.

When the recipe resurfaces in the historical record in the early 1800s it is as a pub dish, served most frequently in the inns around Greenwich.

Recipes for Water Souchy pop up in all the usual Victorian Era suspects. Worth a mention is an earlier recipe from William Verril's 1759 A Complete System of Cookery. The opening line makes his views on Scandinavian cooking abundantly clear: "This is rather a Dutch dish, and for change no bad one."

As far as Water Souchy in the modern era goes, the only people who seem to be cooking it are me and a lovely man called Neil who is cooking his way through English Food by Jane Grigson (you can read about his exploits here). This is a pity because the dish is simple, healthy and tasty, which quite frankly is a trifecta of praise that you can rarely give to 17th century dishes.

Here is the recipe for 1865 that I worked from:

WATER SOUCHY OR SOODJEE. - This mode of dressing fish may be used for soles, flounders, and also fresh-water fish of almost   any description. The fish must be well cleaned and trimmed. If large, they must be cut in pieces; if not, they can be put whole into a stew-pan and covered with water. Boil all the pairings, and parsley leaves and roots cut into shreds, and skim it carefully when it boils. Take care that the fish is not overdone. Serve it up in a deep dish or tureen, with its own gravy, which should be rich and clear, and send up with it brown bread and butter.
 
RECIPES. (1865, August 5). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 3.


'Murray River Cod', State Library of New South Wales, http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/18548424



Ingredients

A 500g (1 pound) freshwater fish, such as Murray Cod, cleaned but whole
1 cup of parsley leaves and stems, chopped
¼ t salt
Brown bread and butter, to serve

Cooking Time

30 minutes, including fish wrangling time

Quantity

A main meal for three. May benefit from a vegetable side dish, to stave off scurvy.

Method

When you get your fish from the fishmonger, ask them to clean it. This means that it will be scaled and gutted but otherwise left intact. At home, just give it a rinse under cold water before use.
Put your fish and chopped parsley in a big saucepan and cover with cold water. It is easiest if you have a pan large enough to lay your fish flat in, but if you don't, sit it up so it looks like it is swimming around.

Bring the fish to a simmer, and then cook for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the fish onto a serving dish, and hook off as much of the non-edible bits as you can. Throw any successfully removed  skin, head, and trimmings back into the water, and boil for a further 10 minutes, and then strain it.

Pour a few ladles of this light broth over the top of the fish and serve it with buttered brown bread.