comscore This seafood stew is endlessly riffable | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

This seafood stew is endlessly riffable


When I’m cooking at home, I usually don’t have a recipe at hand. Often, I’m cooking by feel, like confidently noodling on the piano without sheet music. But, of course, you do need practice before you can ad-lib.

A typical fish stew, as served in the south of France, is another example of a dish you can take liberties with. No matter the selection of seafood available, the method remains the same: An onion is softened in olive oil, before saffron, garlic, thyme, a touch of tomato and a speck of hot pepper are tossed in. It then all blooms together to concentrate the flavors. Then fish stock or water is added to build a broth and seasoned well. It should taste bright and full-flavored before the fish and shellfish go in. Clams and mussels, if used, give it a layer of brininess. A good quantity of sliced Yukon Gold potatoes makes the stew more substantial (and stretches it, if you are low on fish and have extra mouths to feed).

The potatoes also absorb a lot of flavor: I’d venture to say you could leave out the fish sometime and call it a potato stew.

Anytime Fish and Shellfish Stew


• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 medium onion, diced (about 2 cups)

Salt and pepper

• 4 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 large thyme sprig

• Pinch of crumbled saffron threads

• Pinch of red pepper flakes or a whole small dried red pepper

• Splash of dry white wine (about 1/4 cup)

• 1 1/2 cups chopped tomato, canned or fresh (about 2 medium)

• 4 cups fish stock or water

• 2 pounds yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, sliced about 1/4-inch thick

• 6 medium cherry stone clams, scrubbed

• 1 pound boneless, skinless cod or halibut, cut in 1-inch pieces

• 1 pound mussels, cleaned


Heat olive oil over medium in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onions and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened and lightly colored, about 10 minutes.

Stir in garlic, bay leaf, thyme, saffron and red pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add wine and tomatoes, and simmer 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a slow boil over medium. Add potatoes and a good pinch of salt. Adjust heat to a brisk simmer. Cook with lid ajar until potatoes are just done, about 10 minutes. Taste broth — it should be well seasoned — and adjust as necessary. (You can do this up to an hour ahead of time.)

As the broth simmers, add the clams, and cook for 5 minutes, covered with the lid ajar. Add cod and mussels on top, cover and cook until the mussels are done, 4-5 minutes. Turn off heat, and let the stew steep for 5-10 minutes, until the mussels and clams open. Serve in wide soup bowls.

Total time: 45 minutes, serves 4-6.

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