Sunday, 29 March 2009

Disco Stew Doesn't Advertise

I get asked often how to cook shellfish. There is a certain amount of trepidation that swims around the cooking of shellfish. Truth is, it could be easier to cook shellfish than some other meats you may cook frequently.

Take mussels for example. It takes minutes to cook mussels and it is as easy as it gets. Heat up some wine, add garlic and tomatoes. Add mussels and cover for five minutes. And for less than five bucks, you got mussels for two. What can be simpler than that?

Fish stew comes in many varieties: Cioppino from California, Acqua Pazza from Italy, Caldeirada from Portugal, Bouillabaisse from France to name a few. You have fishermen (sorry, fishers) who have some leftovers from today's catch, put it in a pot with some veg and you have cheap meal. Peasant food for lack of a better word. Thing is, these stews are now considered to be high end where for the longest time some seafood was never touched by the bourgeois. Lobster for example, was considered so plentiful and common that only peasants would eat it. Ironic. Anybody who buys lobster knows that it is a rare treat since it usually costs ten to fifteen bucks a pound these days.

So fish stews have a great amount of respect now. Bouillabaisse is now a classic because it offers great taste when made properly and with fresh ingredients, high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and it usually takes little time to prepare.

This isn't new stuff. There are references of the soup that date back to the Ancient Greeks and is even referenced in Roman Mythology! Apparently, Vulcan was making a candlelit dinner for Venus with fish stew long before any mortal got their greedy hands on it.

What must be stressed is that you can do what you want with fish stews. Add what you got, stir it up and have fun with it.

A Humble Chef's Stew with the Fishes

1 lb. Bag of Mussels
1 lb. 16-20 Shrimp (P & V'd [peeled and deviened])
1 lb Baby Scallops
1 Filet of Tilapia or Catfish, cut into 3 oz. portions
4 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 Green Pepper, diced
1 Red Pepper, diced
250 ml white wine
12 - 15 Capers
500 ml Fish or Vegetable Stock
8 or so Sundried Tomatoes (SDTs), julienne
15 - 20 (about a pint) Cherry Tomatoes, quartered
10 Kalamata Olives, halved
Small Bunches of Parsley, Basil and Tarragon, chiffonade or chopped
Juice of a Lemon
Drizzles of Oil of Choice
100 g A.P. Flour
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large saute pan, heat drizzle of oil on medium-high heat. Sweat onions and peppers until soft. Add garlic and continue to cook for two minutes. Add capers and wine and reduce by half. Add olives, SDTs and tomatoes and stock. Bring to a slight boil then simmer. Add tarragon and basil.

Meanwhile, dredge fish and sear in hot frying pan with drizzle of oil. Add a ladle fish stew broth to fish and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 5 - 7 minutes.

Bring stew to a boil and add shrimp, scallops and mussels. Cover with a lid and cook for 4 or 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

In a large bowl, scoop stew first then top with cooked fish. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.

Serves 8ish.

A Humble Chef's tip: more of a necessity than a tip; remove any unopened mussels and discard. Do not eat any mussels that you have to open up ever.

Variation: turn this right up Decadence Alley by adding some crab, lobster and maybe even some oysters. Then take a left to Carbohydrate Lane with some Orzo pasta. Just don't get lost getting there!

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