Brimming with fish, shellfish, shrimp, white beans and potatoes, this might be my favorite seafood stew. Certainly, it’s the one I make most often.
It’s easy enough to make anytime, but worthy of taking center place in a traditional Italian vigilia. I have to admit that, although we almost always eat seafood on Christmas Eve, I’m not fixated on the seven-seafood idea. In Italy, the nature and number of seafood dishes varies from region to region and family to family. Seven represents the number of sacraments, but twelve (the apostles) and three (the Trinity) are equally propitious numbers.
The recipe is based loosely on one shared by my friend Chris Sherman, a Tampa restaurant critic. He calls his stew cioppino, but of course that famous San Francisco dish has Italian roots. This variation boasts five kinds of seafood, like the Livornese soup called cacciucco, but the beans and potatoes remind me more strongly of Portuguese stews. Bottom line, stews that exuberantly celebrate seafood are made along the entire coastline extending from Greece and Italy to France, Spain and Portugal.
So a Mediterranean fish stew this is, in my book. It is extremely flexible. I usually omit shrimp because of an allergy in the family and I don’t always bother with the clams, letting mussels serve as shellfish place holder. I do add beans and potatoes, but if you don’t fancy one or the other, leave them out.
A baguette or other crusty bread is a must. And to follow, I recommend a salad with a citrus dressing and sliced oranges, slivered fennel and pomegranate seeds.
(A somewhat embarassing disclosure: Looking at previous posts, I see I wrote one on this seafood stew a while back. There is overlap, but quite a bit is different, including parts of the recipe itself. So I decided to keep both versions.)
- 1 pound mussels
- 10 large clams optional
- 1 pound thick white fish fillets such as cod, haddock, snapper or grouper
- ¾ pound squid including bodies and tentacles
- 2 medium boiling potatoes
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 medium onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 cups whole plum tomatoes in puree half of a 28-ounce can
- 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 to 3 cups seafood broth* or water
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- Sea salt or kosher salt to taste
- ½ to 1 teaspoon mild or hot Spanish or Hungarian paprika
- ¾ pound medium shrimp peeled (frozen raw is fine)
- 2 cups white beans 14-ounce can
- Chopped parsley to garnish
To prepare seafood: Pull beards (if any) off mussels and place in a bowl filled with well-salted cold water; do the same with clams. Allow to sit for 45 minutes to an hour; drain and rinse shellfish (you may need to repeat this step if a lot of sand is expelled). Cut fish in 2-inch pieces. Slice squid bodies crosswise and separate tentacle clumps if large.
To prepare vegetables: Peel potatoes and dice in ½-inch pieces. Cut celery in ½-inch pieces.
Chop onion and garlic. Chop whole tomatoes or whiz briefly in a blender.
Saute onion, celery and garlic in olive oil in a large, broad saucepan, stirring, until translucent but not browned. Stir in tomato paste until incorporated. Add potatoes, tomatoes, seafood broth, wine and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Add paprika, starting with the smaller amount; taste before adding more.
Add fish and squid. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, about 10 minutes or until cooked through. Add shrimp and beans, cooking until shrimp turns opaque.
Cover the bottom of a large skillet or deep saucepan with some of sauce. Add mussels and clams.** Cook over medium-high heat until shellfish open (mussels will open first), about 8 minutes. Tilt the skillet to pour cooking juices into stew. Add more broth if needed and taste, adding more salt and paprika if needed,
To serve: Spoon the stew into large, shallow bowls. Garnish with equal quantities of mussels and clams. Sprinkle with parsley.
*You could make seafood broth from scratch if you frequent a vendor who offers white fish frames--mine does not, so lately I've been buying seafood broth in a box.
**I prefer cooking the mussels and clams separately—easier to distribute when serving-- but If you have a large enough saucepan, you could pile the mussels and clams on top of the stew; adjust cooking times in earlier steps to allow for this change.