Seafood stew that is layered with flavor until the broth is rich and robust is the perfect dish to serve on a cold winter day. The warm broth will warm your soul. The seafood always brings me back to warm sunny days at the beach. Who wouldn’t enjoy that memory when everything outside is coated with a blanket of snow?
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 than an Italian Cioppino, which usually incorporates far more fish and primarily a tomato base with no fish stock. Bouillabaisse, a French seafood stew, 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 for scorpionfish. 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 then softened onions, fennel and garlic add a sweet deep flavor. The process of adding the tomato paste and cooking it until it is dark, adds a richness to the broth you can’t get 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 ounces crumbled pancetta
- 1 cup finely diced fennel bulb
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 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 and juices)
- 8 oz. firm fish like halibut, tilapia, mahi-mahi, or salmon
- 1 lb. mussels ( or sub clams)
- 1 lb. large shrimp, raw, peeled (reserve peels) and de-veined ( or sub scallops)
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 lemon optional
- Crusty Bread or 1 Cup of cannellini beans
- In a large heavy bottom deep skillet or dutch oven, brown 6-8 ounces pancetta in a little olive oil. Once browned, set aside. Pour off the fat.
- In a separate stockpot, add the seafood stock and the skins from the shrimp. Simmer on low to warm. Before using, remove and discard the shrimp shells. I do this by pouring it through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the shells as I add it to the stew. A slotted spoon can also be used.
- In the same skillet that you cooked the pancetta, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil on medium-high heat. Add fennel, stirring often for about 3 minutes. Now add onion, turn the heat down to medium and sauté both until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Toss in the garlic, sauté 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, pancetta, and bring to a simmer.
- Salt and pepper to taste, and 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, simmer a couple of minutes and add shrimp, simmer a couple of minutes, then add mussels. Remember the larger the shrimp or mussels or fish pieces, the longer they take to cook, so look at all of your seafood ingredients and determine which will take the longest to cook, putting them in first.
- Taste, 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 added heartiness, instead of serving with bread.