Seafood stew that is layered with flavor until the broth is rich and robust is the perfect dish to serve on a chilly day. The broth will warm your soul. The seafood always brings me back to warm sunny days at the beach, which brings a smile to my face as the weather turns cold.
Unlike other seafood stews I’ve made, this seafood stew is made with a tomato base. I use a fish or seafood stock because it’s closer to a Bouillabaisse – a French seafood stew that usually includes saffron, which I did not use here. It is traditionally made using a seafood or fish stock. Technically, an “authentic” bouillabaisse cannot be made outside of Provence because it must include Provence’s indigenous scorpionfish. In the states, a snapper or sea bass is frequently used as a substitute. Whatever you want to call it, we love it and I hope you will too.
Spending most of my life enjoying New England chowders and creamy clam soups, it took me a while to get on board with the idea of a tomato-based seafood stew.
Learn from my mistake.
This soup is crazy delicious. It starts with crispy pancetta and layers in onions, fennel and garlic for a sweet, deep flavor. The process of adding the tomato paste and cooking it until it is dark adds a richness to the broth cannot be achieved otherwise. By steeping the shrimp shells in the seafood stock (or making your own stock if you are so inclined) another layer of flavor is developed.
When it all comes together, its complex flavor is one you’ll think only a chef could prepare. Not true, it’s much easier than you might think.
- 6-8 oz. crumbled pancetta
- 1 cup fennel bulb, finely diced
- 1 cup onion, finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly diced
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups seafood (or fish) stock, plus shrimp shells
- 3 medium tomatoes, diced (or one can of diced tomatoes with juice)
- 8 oz. firm fish like halibut, tilapia, mahi-mahi or salmon
- 1 lb. mussels (sub with clams clams)
- 1 lb. large shrimp, raw, peeled and and deveined (reserve peels)
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 lemon (optional)
- Crusty bread or 1 Cup of cannellini beans
- In a large heavy skillet or dutch oven, brown the pancetta in olive oil. Once browned, set aside. Pour off the fat.
- In a separate stockpot, add the seafood stock and the peels from the shrimp. Simmer on low to warm. Before using, remove and discard the shrimp shells. Do this by pouring it through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the shells as add it is added to the stew. A slotted spoon can also be used.
- In the same skillet that used to cook the pancetta, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil on medium-high heat. Add fennel, stirring often for about 3 minutes. Add onion, turn the heat down to medium and sauté both until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Toss in the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally until garlic starts to turn golden. Add tomato paste. Turn heat up to high, constantly stirring, until paste darkens, about 3 more minutes. You are basically frying the paste to deepen the flavor of the dish.
- Add white wine and turn the heat down to medium-high, stirring until it cooks down by half, about 2 minutes. Add seafood stock, tomatoes and pancetta and bring to a simmer.
- Add Salt and pepper to taste along with chili flakes. The pancetta may make the stew salty enough, so be sure to taste it. Squeeze half the lemon, if desired and taste. You want the broth to taste rich and flavorful.
- Add fish and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer for a couple more minutes, then add mussels. Remember the larger the shrimp, mussels and fish pieces, the longer they take to cook, so be sure to add the seafood that will take longest to cook first.
- Taste and adjust salt and lemon to your preferences.
- Divide among bowls and finish with the fresh parsley.
Note: Serve with crusty bread. I like crusty sourdough or French baguettes. If you are going gluten-free, try adding a cup of cooked cannellini beans to the stew for a similar heartiness.