As the holidays roll around, I make a big pot of seafood stew in the Italian Christmas tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. This stew provides a wonderful opportunity for my family to sample a wide diversity of seafood. Having a plethora of species in the pot doesn’t necessarily make dinnertime more complicated. Like most other stews, seafood stews can be cooked ahead of time, gently warmed when required, and be all the better for it. This fact makes it a perfect dish for a stress-free holiday gathering.
I’ve provided my favorite recipe below, but the direction a cook can take a seafood stew is limited only by the cook’s taste and sense of adventure. Ingredients can be bold like garlic, acidic like tomatoes; sweet like butternut squash; subtle like fennel; or, surprising like cinnamon, chile flakes, and orange zest.
The seafood in the mix can be of any combination you like. But the success of the final dish relies on knowing the required cook time for each type you choose to use so you can cook them gently as you go. For example, you can searing scallops on one side as a first step to giving them texture when they are nestled back into the stew. The caramelized bits left on the pot’s surface after searing the scallops also add flavor to the liquid in which you can steam clams and mussels. The shellfish as they open will contribute their juices to the broth which then can be used to gently poach the shrimp and flaky fish cut into similarly sized pieces. Since none of these individual seafood items require much cooking time, it is the layering of flavors that makes these ingredients better for being brought together in one pot.
Seafood stew is a convenient method for getting more seafood on your family’s table more often. Please take the pledge to eat #Seafood2xWk at seafoodnutrition.org.
Seafood Stew with Butternut Squash and Fennel
1/2 pound medium sized (U20) dry packed scallops
1/2 pound skinless salmon, cut into 1 1/2-ounce pieces
1/2 pound white fleshed fish, cut into 1 1/2-ounce pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup seafood stock or water
12 hard shell clams, scrubbed
2 pounds mussels, cleaned
½ of 2-ounce tin of anchovies, chopped, oil reserved
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into ¾-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 fennel bulb, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes
1 cinnamon stick
1 28-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 pound peeled shrimp
Season scallops, salmon and flaky white fish with salt and set aside for 20 minutes.
In a large, wide pan over medium high heat, add olive oil. When oil is hot enough to shimmer, add scallops to the pan, keeping ample space between them. Sear until they develop a golden-brown crust on one side, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add stock or water and clams to the pan. Cover, raise heat to high, and steam until clams are open, 5-7minutes. Discard any unopened clams. Add scallops, cover, and cook until they open, (3-4 minutes). Turn off heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove mussels from the pan and set them aside. Drain cooking liquid through a fine-meshed sieve and set it aside.
Add oil from anchovies to the pan and place it over medium high heat. Add squash and sauté until squash caramelizes slightly, about 4 minutes. Stir in chopped anchovies and cook until dissolved, about two minutes. Add chopped garlic, fennel and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Add tomatoes, strained shellfish broth, chile pepper flakes and cinnamon stick. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until butternut I just tender and sauce has thickened slightly, 12-15 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick.
On one side of the pan, nestle all pieces of salmon into the sauce. On the other side of the pan, nestle all pieces of flaky white fish into the sauce. In the middle nestle the shrimp into the pan. Cover, turn the heat to low, and cook until shrimp are pink and fishes are opaque, 7-8 minutes. Uncover, nestle scallops, clams and mussels into the pan. Serve hot, in pan, with crusty bread.