Friday, December 30, 2011

Flex Your Mussels, Clams, and Other Seafood.

In early November, I had the great fortune to take a trip to Paris. It was all too brief a stay -- just three days and three nights -- but I made the most of it with quiet walks, numerous museums and outdoor markets, and of course, superb meals.

In the process, I rediscovered my love affair with French baguettes and sweet butter; thanks to Beach Pea Bakery and Kate's Homemade Butter, I've been able to enjoy a reasonable facsimile of these right here in Portsmouth. (I'm still yearning for those simple ham and cheese sandwiches one finds in every Paris bakery, though!)

One dinner I particularly enjoyed was at the seafood-only restaurant, Bistrot du Dome Bastille, where I had a lovely stew of fish and shellfish. I was reminded of this just before Christmas when I read David Tanis' recipe for Fishmonger's Stew in one of his City Kitchen columns in the New York Times. Dave, Robin, and I had been thinking about kicking off the New Year's weekend with a bouillabaisse or cioppino. The Tanis recipe seemed simpler; more like the dish that had so delighted me in Paris.

Those of us who live in the Seacoast area are so fortunate to have so many places where we can get the fresh-caught fish a dish like this requires! Saunders Fish Market in Portsmouth had both local flounder and sea scallops -- no monkfish or calamari this week, which was a slight disappointment-- however, it was easy to find the mussels and clams, so we were all set.

This stew has a leek and onion base, with only a few tomatoes to give it some flavor depth and color. We used a good canned fish stock, but you can also use chicken broth or water.  You can also be flexible about what fish you add -- just be sure to put things in to the stock base  in the order that Tanis suggests so the more delicate fish doesn't overcook. If you use sea scallops, as we did, you might cut them in half crosswise so they get done at the same time that everything else does. 
 Most important: don't overlook the sauce. It's the source of the bright, rich garlic-lemon-olive oil-saffron taste that gives this stew its distinctive taste -- just like the one I loved in Paris!

Fishmonger’s Stew ala David Tanis
Time: 45 minutes

1 dozen medium-small clams, like littlenecks
1 pound mussels
3/4 pound monkfish or other firm-fleshed white fish, in 1-inch cubes
3/4 pound scrod, flounder, or other soft-fleshed white fish, in 1-inch cubes
3/4 pound squid, in 1/2-inch rings, plus tentacles
1/2 pound bay scallops, optional
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups medium-diced onions
3 cups medium-diced leeks, rinsed of grit
1/2 cup diced canned tomato
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or a few thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
Pinch of saffron, about 1/8 teaspoon
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
Pinch red pepper flakes
6 cups fish stock, chicken broth, or water
1 pound Yellow Finn or russet potatoes, peeled, in 1/2-inch slices
Garlic-saffron sauce, see recipe.

1. Soak the clams in cold water to remove grit and sand, then drain. Rinse and de-beard the mussels. Put the monkfish, scrod, squid and bay scallops (if using) in separate small bowls. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, thyme, bay leaf, saffron, garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes.

3. Turn the heat to high, add the fish stock, chicken broth or water, and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and adjust to taste. Add the potatoes and reduce the heat so they simmer gently until firm-tender, about 10 minutes. (The stew may be prepared to this point up to 2 hours ahead.)

4. To finish the stew, return the heat to a brisk simmer. Add the clams and cook till they open, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mussels, monkfish and scrod and simmer until the mussels open, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squid and scallops, if using, and cook 1 minute more. Turn off the heat, stir in the garlic-saffron sauce.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Garlic-Saffron Sauce
Time: 10 minutes

1 cup crustless day-old French bread, in 1/2-inch cubes
2 or 3 garlic cloves
Pinch of saffron, about 1/8 teaspoon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley.

1. Soak the bread in cold water for 1 minute and squeeze dry. Mash garlic and salt into a paste. Put it in a mortar with the bread and pound together with the saffron, or mix it all in a blender.

2. Gradually whisk in the olive oil to make a thick sauce. Add the lemon juice, parsley and salt. Keep the sauce at room temperature.

Yield: 1/3 cup.