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Make this tomato based seafood stew with ciabatta toasts a part of your Feast of the Seven Fishes or anytime you want to enjoy a hearty, yet light seafood dish. You’ll want that toast to soak up all the wonderful flavors in that broth!
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Whether a pot of mussels in tomatoey wine broth, a bowl of cioppino or an Asian fish hot pot, I love a steamy, saucy, seafood meal. Making this dish, spiked with a little peppery heat, seems so right during the frosty months. Although, I wouldn’t turn it down anytime of the year!
Creating a mixed seafood stew is an efficient way to incorporate many elements into one pot if you’re planning a Feast of the Seven Fishes. My previous post introduced the first ‘fish’ in Crab + Goat Palmiers. This recipe celebrates four more by combining anchovy, halibut, shrimp + mussels!
Sidebar: wondering what the moniker ‘Poplar Hill’ has to do with this dish? Not a thing! When we moved to our home, I thought it would be fun to name it…like someone might name their farm. Our property is surrounded by poplar trees and happens to be on top of a hill. Not terribly original, and perhaps a little indulgent, but that’s the story. Also, it sounds way more exciting than just ‘seafood stew recipe’. Amiright? 😉
Ingredients for Seafood Stew
The base of this stew is a broth scented with aromatics like fennel, shallot, thyme and bay leaf. Each liquid adds another layer of flavor — white wine, clam juice, seafood or vegetable stock, and diced tomatoes with their juices. To balance the acidity of the wine and tomatoes, I added just a bit of sugar and punched things up with some crushed red pepper and umami offerings of tomato paste and anchovy (which melts right into the broth).
When it comes to selecting seafood, I went with our family favorites. We are huge fans of mussels, so I added two pounds, and smaller amounts of halibut and large shrimp (my son’s favorite). There are no hard and fast rules here, so incorporating your personal favorites will simply make this a dish you’ll truly enjoy.
When possible, purchase fresh seafood the day you plan to cook it. If this isn’t an option, buy frozen and allow it to thaw in the fridge overnight. When available, and if not cost prohibitive, I also look for sustainable or wild-caught seafood.
Making Seafood Stew
I learned a little hack from this article at Food52 for injecting more flavor into your seafood dishes: combine anchovies and garlic in a mortar and pestle. The chef who shared this technique uses it when she wants to have that ‘from the sea’ flavor without making a seafood stock from scratch. Although I used store-bought seafood stock, I figured it couldn’t hurt to help things along a little (and check one more fish off our list of seven)!
The most time consuming portion of this tomato based seafood stew is creating the base. You’ll start by sautéing fennel and shallots in olive oil, along with tomato paste and crushed red pepper. By the time the vegetables are tender, they’ve also taken on a dark red hue that’ll give your broth a deliciously vibrant color. Add the anchovy + garlic paste to the mix for a short cook to bring out the flavor.
Next, you’ll add the white wine and allow it to reduce by half to concentrate that flavor. The remaining ingredients get added and are simmered together for 30 minutes to mingle.
The last step is steaming the seafood. Your broth should be at a simmer, not a boil, in order to gently and slowly cook the seafood. Start with any shellfish / mollusk you choose as it takes the longest to cook. If your fish is cut down to smaller pieces, it and the shrimp should take about the same length of time to cook — about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because there is nothing worse than rubbery seafood.
Variations + Serving Suggestions
This stew is decidedly Italian-inspired (um, cioppino?). For a French-inspired variation, swap the fennel for leeks and the tomato paste for saffron threads.
Toasted ciabatta is the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of this seafood stew. While the seafood is wonderful, spooning broth and bits of tomato and fennel onto toasted bread is ultimate comfort food.
Choose any bread you like, but I highly recommend toasting it so it keeps a bit of its crunchy, chewy texture when soaked in broth.
Make it ahead — Make the broth a day before your dinner, but don’t add the seafood yet. An overnight in the fridge will further develop the flavor and save you a good 40 minutes when it’s showtime.
Freezer friendly — Same as above, make the broth then transfer it to freezer safe containers after it cools. Stored properly at a constant freeze, it will be good for about 6 months. Thaw your broth in the refrigerator overnight. When you’re ready to assemble the stew, bring it to a boil then reduce down to a simmer before adding the seafood.
I hope you enjoy this tomato based seafood stew as much as I do! Come back to see what’s next on our Feast of the Seven Fishes menu — Lobster Mac + Cheese!
Poplar Hill Seafood Stew with Ciabatta Toast
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 4 anchovy fillets from a jar or tin
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb stalks removed, cored and sliced thin
- 2 shallots minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine I used Sauvignon Blanc
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 oz clam juice
- 2 cups fish or vegetable stock
- 1 can petite diced tomatoes 14.5 oz can
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 lbs mussels1 cleaned + debearded
- ½ lb wild caught shrimp1 peeled + deveined
- 1 lb firm white fish1,2 cut into pieces no more than 1" thick
- kosher salt + fresh cracked black pepper
- 8 slices ciabatta
- In a mortar and pestle, crush the anchovies and minced garlic together until it forms a paste. (You can use a small bowl and a fork if you don't have a mortar and pestle.) Set it aside.
- In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Add fennel, shallots, tomato paste and crushed red pepper to the pot. Season with kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper. Saute until tender, 5-7 minutes.
- Add the garlic-anchovy paste and cook for another minute.
- Add the white wine and increase the heat to medium-high. Reduce it by half.3
- Add the thyme, bay leaf, clam juice, stock, tomatoes & sugar. Allow it to come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook it for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
- Meanwhile, heat your oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle a little olive oil on your ciabatta slices and toast them for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the mussels, return the lid and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add the shrimp, and the fish on top, cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the mussels have opened and the shrimp and fish are cooked, but still tender.
- Discard the bay leaf. Distribute the stew into bowls and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with ciabatta toasts.
- Use any combination of seafood you like totaling about 3-1/2 pounds. Remember that mollusks require slightly longer cooking than shrimp and fish.
- I used halibut. Any firm, white fish that becomes flaky and tender when cooked will work: seabass, cod, snapper, monkfish. Heck, if you love salmon, that would be lovely, too!
- Dip the handle end of a wooden spoon into the wine right after adding it the pot to gauge how much you’re starting with. Do this same check periodically until the wine has reduced by half.
- You can make the soup base a day ahead. After cooling, store it in the fridge.
- Freeze cooled base for up to 6 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight.
- When ready to assemble, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer before adding your seafood.