Seafood Stews, Part I

Is anything more fabulous than seafood stew?  Next to steak, it is one of the most ordered meals in restaurants.  From the Italian Brodetto to San Francisco’s Cioppino, I love seafood stew. Luckily, it’s one meal my whole family will eat as long as I keep it simple.

Seafood stews are fast to make and satisfying as the weather starts to get colder. With a great loaf of bread they make a great one pot dinner. I’ve been making all kinds.

There are many cuisines from around the globe that feature a fish soup or stew. My son needed to learn about Dominican food so we tried one from there. Thai Poh-Taek is a personal favorite and there is always bouillabaisse, my first introduction into the category.

While working on this piece, I had a magnificent Italian style fish stew at Alba restaurant in Boulder. I’m trying to get Chef Alex to share the recipe.  Here is a very basic one. I promise to share some of my faves over the course of the next few months.

A few key things to remember: You don’t need to make stock, especially if you are using shellfish in your stew.  Always add the clams in first and then the mussels just as the clams begin to open. I once cooked the mussels in my clay pot and then added the juices and the cooked mussels to my stew that was one the stove.

Fish stews are very versatile and satisfying. I’ve served them with pasta, risotto, alone and o one has ever complained. One helpful hint: plan on making this the night before the garbage is picked up so your trash won’t get stinky.

Basic Seafood Stew for 6

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 cups water
1 (8-oz) bottle clam juice (we suggest Bar Harbor)
1 (16-oz.) can diced tomatoes, not drained
2 bay leaves
12 large prawns, peeled, and de-veined
12 to 24  little neck or manilla clams, washed
12 mussels, srubbed and beards removed if needed
2 lbs. firm fish, like cod or sea bass (frozen works!) cut into 2 inch pieces
2 tsp. chopped oregano ( fresh preferred but dry works too. Thyme is also a good substitute)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a large heavy bottom pot. Add the onion and saute for 1 minute. Add the water, clam juice, tomatoes and bay leaves.  If using dried herbs, add them now and simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Add the clams. Once they start to open, add the shrimp and mussels.

In a separate skillet, heat about another 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Salt and pepper the fish and place in the hot oil. Turn to brown on all sides. If you are using fresh oregano chop it with the garlic and add it to the hot soup with the vinegar.

In warmed bowls, divide up the cooked fish. Pour some of the broth and place a bit of the mussel, shrimps and clams into each bowl. You can garnish with fresh lemon wedges and chopped parsley or cilantro.

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