Saturday Dinner: Mediterranean Fish Stew

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Every culture has a fish stew attached to it and, for the most part, they are the same. The most famous comes from France: bouillabaisse, a combination of fish filets and shellfish with its origins in Provençe. The bouillabaisse is typically made with fennel and/or a shot of pernod, and served with the fish on the side and its broth topped with rouille (a type of aioli). The Spanish come in with the zarzuela, a Catalan dish of seasonal seafood caught off the Spanish coast that is cooked with tomatoes, saffron and almonds, the latter of which is pulverized until it resembles breadcrumbs. Cioppino is actually a California invention, but brodetto and cacciucco are the authentic Italian fish stews loaded with clams and shrimp.

When The Wife announced that she wanted fish on Saturday evening, I thought this would be the way to go. I thought about doing two or three different styles of steamed mussels, and I’m glad I didn’t. Less than half of what I purchased opened up when cooked and half of those that did were bloody inside, which didn’t seem right. So, I went with a Mediterranean fish stew.

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Mediterranean, but not French, Spanish or Italian. More like Pan-Mediterranean. French, because I worked in the fennel and a garlicky aioli. Spanish, because I worked in saffron and a tomato base. Italian because of the clams and baccala and, well, because I am.

WHAT WORKED: Homemade stock from Syracuse fishmonger Fins & Tails. It’s a solid stock made fresh at the store. A little pricey ($4 per 16 oz.) but so much better than anything else you will find (though Kitchen Basics’ shelf-stable stock is good).

WHAT DIDN’T: The mussels, as I mentioned previously. Very disappointing.

WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: She approved, though I can tell she was seething quietly because I didn’t peel the shrimp before cooking them.

WILL IT MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Sure. It will certainly be lunch at least once this week thanks to a plethora of leftovers.

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Mediterranean Fish Stew
By Jared Paventi

  • 4 cups fish stock (homemade or Kitchen Basics-brand)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 oz. leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (only white and light green parts)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped coarsely
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, outside layer removed and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Healthy pinch of saffron threads
  • herbes de provence
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and cut with a steak knife inside of the can
  • 12 littleneck clams
  • 12 mussels, debearded
  • 1 lb. cod filet, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb. large to extra large raw shrimp
  • 4 to 5 basil leaves

In a small saucepan, bring fish stock and 1/2 cup of white wine to a simmer. Keep stock on low and off to the side.

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In a large pot, heat olive oil over high until it smokes and shimmers. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion, leeks and fennel, stirring to coat and sauteing 5 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and cook 60 to 90 seconds, or until fragrant. Season with salt, pepper, saffron and herbes de provence, and toss with a wooden spoon. Add the white wine and cook until it evaporates almost completely.

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Increase heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, basil and stock to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Add the clams and mussels, cover and cook 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cod, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove lid and check to see that the fish is cooked — the cod should be flaky, the shrimp opaque and the shellfish opened. If necessary, increase heat to medium-high, cover, and cook an additional five minutes.

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Serve with aioli on the side and crusty Italian bread.

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