I thought while I was thinking of fish stew that I ought to share with you the recipe for one that originates from much closer to my home. This is a dish that is quintessentially Spanish. Garlicy Mediterranean fish in a tomato sauce, thickened and flavoured with toasted almonds and saffron, spiced with pimenton picante and served up with chunks of crusty country bread and green salad fresh from the huerta. And just as easy to cook for one or ten.
Selection of fish and shellfish.
Monkfish is traditional, but now that it is endangered I choose other white meaty fish –Cod, Hake, Swordfish, Shark, Grey Mullet. Haddock and Conger Eel we don’t get in this part of the Med but would be suitable. Squid – if you are buying squid in a Mediterranean country be aware that there are several varieties of encephalopods and not all of them a tender. Make sure that it is Calamar that you buy and not Poton which is tasty but requires a long slow cooking. If in doubt the calamares are usually a bit pricier and smaller in size than the poton.
For the shellfish
3-4 largish prawns per person – if they still have their heads and shells they will add more flavour to the stew.
3-4 mussels per person – in their shells
Clams – in their shells
Olive oil for frying
Half a head of garlic – peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion – finely chopped
50 grams whole almonds
2 pinches saffron strands
1 heaped teaspoon pimenton picante / spicy paprika
3 large tomatoes – peeled, de seeded and chopped or 5 tablespoons passata
Flat leaved parsley – chopped
Prepare the fish. Remove any skin and bones and cut into large chunks. In some restaurants here they leave everything on and also use small fish like Red Mullet, but I find that Suquet is messy enough to eat with getting the shellfish out of their shells and peeling the prawns without having to try to skin and bone fish as you eat the dish as well. Also some fish skin has quite a different and stronger flavour than the flesh and this can ruin a dish.
Clean the mussels and clams and steam them open. Just put them in a frying pan, cover and put on a low heat. Turn them from time to time until they are all open. Put to one side until needed.
Put the saffron in a thick based pan over a low heat and toast to dry the strands and bring out the flavour. Be careful with this as the expensive strands can easily burn.
Put the strands in a mortar with a pinch of salt and grind up.
Put the almonds in the same pan as where the saffron was and toast moving from time to time until they are a light golden brown.
Add to the mortar and grind to a rough powder. You still want some bigger bits in the powder for texture. Put to one side until needed.
Heat the oil in a pan large enough to take all the ingredients for the stew. Add the garlic and fry over a low heat until golden.
Add the onions and fry until translucent.
Add the tomatoes and fry down for 5 minutes, or add the passata.
Put in the fish pieces, the prawns and the almond and saffron from the mortar. Season with the pimenton. Add the strained liquid from the mussels and clams.
Stir all to mix in the ingredients.
The liquid wants to just cover the fish, if it looks a bit dry add some fish stock, or chicken if you don’t have fish.
Cook slowly for 5-10 minutes until the fish is almost cooked.
Add the mussels and clams and chopped parsley.
Heat to warm through.
Check the seasonings and add salt and freshly ground black pepper as required. This is done at the very end as some shellfish can be quite salty and so until it and its stock are added you won’t know how salty the dish is.
Serve with crusty bread and a green salad.
The leftovers with extra clams added make a great sauce for pasta the next day……..