I had the boy’s parents over for lunch today. Lovely people, but not necessarily the biggest lovers of spice/heat in food. Plus they were about to have a long drive back to Kingston (Ontario, not Jamaica), so didn’t want to make them something too heavy. Also, I wanted to use them as guinea pigs for this seafood stew – a version of which I had at a lovely Italian restaurant in my neighbourhood. So here goes:
- 1/2-1 lb raw shrimp, calamari and the fish (skinless/ boneless is best) of your choice. **If you can, get the bones/ head of the fish from your fishmonger too – you can throw ’em in to the stew as it’s cooking for a nice fish stock alternative, and take ’em out before you add the ‘fer real seafood for serving. Also, whitefish like grouper, etc are best, not something like catfish or salmon.
- 1 lb fresh, cleaned mussels (optional)
- 1 large onion (I use red) – finely chopped
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 stalks celery – finely chopped
- 6-7 cloves of garlic (you heard me) – finely diced/minced
- 7-8 medium, ripe tomatoes (or the canned equivalent)
- 900 ml (approx) low-sodium chicken stock (or half chicken/half seafood stock)
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- Red chilli flakes to taste
- Pinch of saffron (optional)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds OR half a fresh fennel bulb, finely chopped
- 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme (on the stalk)
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- Salt/ Pepper to taste
- Pinch of sugar (if needed)
- Rough chopped cilantro – half handful
- Rough chopped basil – half handful
- Slurry of 1 tsp all purpose flour and 2-3 tsp water (optional)
- Heat up the olive oil in a nice, big stew pot. Add the onions, celery, fennel and half the garlic and reduce the heat to about medium. Let it cook down, sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt to help dehydrate them faster if you want.
- When the mixture is browning nicely and just starting to stick to the bottom, add the white wine, and let it deglaze the base of the pot.
- Add the tomatoes, puree, salt, pepper, cumin, chilli flakes, sugar, bay leaves and sprigs of thyme. Increase the heat for a few minutes, let the tomatoes start to break down.
- When the tomatoes have softened, add the stock (and the fish heads/ bones if you have ’em).
- Let everything cook on a low simmer – uncovered – till the flavours taste nice and round. Adjust salt, sweetness, heat, etc., at this point. Don’t worry if you’ve oversalted, remember the seafood still has to go in. Simmer at least 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it’s too thin/ watery, you can add the flour slurry at this point.
- Just before you’re about to serve, bring the stew back up to the boil, remove the fish heads, etc if you’ve left ’em in, remove the bay leaves and thyme stalks (if any). Add in the saffron and seafood, let everything cook for a few (ie: 5-6 ) minutes. DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR SEAFOOD OR GOD WILL KILL A PUPPY.
- Turn off the heat, throw in the cilantro and basil, stir in and serve with some crusty bread.