Thursday, March 8, 2012

Catalan Fish Stew

A note about today's recipe: You will notice that today's entry is not accompanied by the usual photo of the finished dish. I did, in fact take a number of suitably arty shots that were destined for my Gourmet Goddess readers' eyes. However, due to a rather unfortunate incident involving me getting a bit thumb happy with the delete function during the upload process, Andrew and I are the only ones who will ever know how pretty the dish actually looked. And it was so pretty, I promise! Next time I will pay a bit more attention. So, apologies everyone - you will just have to enjoy a groovy poster advertisement for Spanish olive oil that I found instead. I will be more careful next time!

Now, to the dish itself. The inspiration for today's dish comes from Spain - or more specifically, Catalonia. Catalan food is extremely diverse and dishes in different parts of the region will depend entirely on what grows well there. Away from the coastal areas, the focus is more meat such as pork - both fresh and cured meat, wild mushrooms, local vegetables and olive oil. Along the Mediterranean coast, particularly around Barcelona, they celebrate the abundance of fresh seafood. Being a big seafood lover, I thought I would share my version of a delicious Catalan Fish Stew  or "suquet de peix".

The stew has a rich tomato base, enhanced with aromatics such as fennel seed, peppercorns, fresh garlic and thyme - and heaps of succulent seafood. The sauce has extra depth with the addition of saffron and a little almond meal that is stirred in towards the end of the cooking process. Ground almonds or hazelnuts are commonly used in Catalan recipes to thicken sauces and to add another flavour dimension.

This dish is very robust and rustic and would be great served communal style -  in a generous serving bowl, with plenty of fresh crusty bread to mop up the sauce. Feel free to use whatever seafood you prefer - I think clams and scallops would be a nice addition. Using a couple of different varieties of fish would also provide extra flavour and possibly some texture contrast.

Pure Spanish Olive Oil

You will need: (For the Sauce) 1 large red onion diced finely, 4 cloves garlic chopped, 1 cup finely diced celery, 1 cup finely diced red capsicum, 1 fennel bulb (the white part) diced finely, 1/2 cup finely diced carrot, 1 tablespoon olive oil (I used a Spanish one - seemed appropriate), 3 cups tomato passata (or tomato puree), 4 anchovies, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon almond meal, 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, 3 cups fish stock (you could also use vegetable stock if you wanted to), pinch of cayenne pepper,salt and pepper to taste.

(For the seafood) 1 large fish fillet (it should be at least 2cm thick and about 30cm long), 10 black mussels, 10 large prawns in the shell, 1 large squid.

Method: In a mortar and pestle, crush the peppercorns and fennel seeds. Set aside. Put the saffron threads in a small cup of boiling water and allow to infuse while you continue the preparation.

In a deep pan, heat the olive oil and add the ground up fennel and peppercorn mixture. Add the onion, celery, capsicum, fennel,and carrot. Cook for about 10 minutes until the mixture begins to go soft.

Roughly chop the anchovies, and add to the mixture along with the garlic and the bay leaf. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the passata, paprika, brown sugar, sherry vinegar and cayenne pepper and combine well. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.

Add the soaked saffron (including the water) and the fish stock. Allow to simmer gently for around 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and adjust if necessary. Stir through the almond meal.

Now prepare your seafood. Remove any bones from the fish with tweezers and cut into chunks. Clean and de-beard the mussels, clean and skin the squid and cut into rings.

Heat a heavy based frypan with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook the fish, prawns and squid in small batches and set aside. Make sure you do not overcook your seafood - each batch will only take a minute or two.

Add the prawns and the mussels to the simmering sauce. Put the lid on and cook for a couple of minutes until the mussels open. Disgard any that don't. Gently stir through the fish and squid. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Serve in pasta or soup bowls with crusty bread and a sprinkling of fresh continental parsley.

Serves 4 as a main meal or 6 as an entree.


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