Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Seafood Stew

Sorry there was no post last week. I was away in Cornwall for the half-term holidays. We had a lovely week of coastal and seaside village walks, punctuated with lingering seafood lunches and hand-warming pasties on the beach. The weather was positively autumnal but Evie still managed to squeeze in some sandcastle building and beach combing before we retreated, windswept to a cafe for hot chocolate.

One stormy lunchtime my husband and I managed to sneak off and leave Evie in the care of her grandparents while we enjoyed a delicious lunch in the charming village of Port Isaac. After braving the icy winds and driving rain on the coastal path down into the village we found warmth and inviting smells at The Harbour, which as the name suggests looks out on to the very boats from which their simple but delicious seafood is landed. We struggled to decide on what to eat but finally decided upon the scallops and red snapper. As we were tucking into dessert the couple next to us were presented with a luscious bowlful of fish stew, which looked exquisite. What's more, it was so good that, much to the delight of the owner, they ordered a second portion. I wished we too had been so heroically greedy and had hoped to return to sample the stew, but on our return to Port Isaac the very next day we were lured into another seafood gem. Fresh from the Sea is a small deli specialising in seafood landed by its own day boat, the Mary D. Here we feasted on crab soup and lobster, an indulgent but laid-back lunch enjoyed on stools with our bowls resting on the windowsill.

We never did make it back to The Harbour for a bowl of the seafood stew. It is always nice to leave some things undone; a dish on a menu, a sight to see, a reason to return. In Port Isaac, it will be the promise of delicious seafood stew.

Seafood Stew

As it may be some time before I make my next trip to Cornwall I devised a recipe to assuage my appetite for an umami-rich and cockle-warming seafood stew. 

For 2 heroically greedy or 4 restrained portions.

A glug of olive oil.
1 shallot
2-3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. sweet paprika
A pinch of saffron
2 tsp. red pesto or sundried tomato paste.  
1/2 litre of fish or chicken stock
100ml. dry white wine or vermouth
300g. mussels
200g. prawns
200g. firm white fish, skinned and boned (pollack, hake, monkfish)
A handful of parsley
A handful of fresh cherry tomatoes per person
Optional - 150g. orzo pasta (pre-cooked in boiling water), some boiled potatoes, or 1 can of butter beans to make more of a meal out of your stew.
Essential - Good bread to mop up the juices.

On a low-medium heat, warm a good glug of olive oil in a large casserole dish that has a lid. Add the shallot, garlic and fennel seeds, and cook gently, stirring occasionally until softened. Add the sweet paprika, saffron, bay leaves and pesto. Stir everything together, adding the white wine or vermouth if you have some to hand. Boil down for a few minutes before adding the stock. Stir, then put the lid on and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Wash and prepare your seafood: the mussels will need scrubbing, discarding any that are open and do not close if you tap them gently; the fish needs to be cut into chunky bite-size pieces.  Cut the stalks from the parsley.

Add the parsley stalks, prawns, mussels and the optional pre-cooked carbohydrate to the broth and give the stew a stir.  Place in the fish fillets, pushing them under the liquid gently. Put the lid on your casserole and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the mussels have opened, the prawns have turned pink and the fish is an opaque white. 

Ladle into bowls, top with the parsley leaves and the tomatoes sliced in half. Serve with crusty bread.

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