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New home, cool evening, and proper technique yield the perfect fish stew

December 31, 2009

We just moved into a new place. The kitchen is stocked and the family is tired of eating out. We are ready for some home-cooking again. I am driving to the farmers market and mind-tasting what I should make. I pass Santa Monica Seafood and decide with the cooler weather a hearty bouillabaisse (fish stew) is the ticket! I pull over and grab some monkfish, black cod, Florida rock shrimp and a few jumbo sea scallops. I am getting closer but still need the veggies. I head to the farmers market and pick up some haricot vert (baby green beans) and some fingerling potatoes. On my way out I passed the Carlsbad fish stand and grabbed a bag of black mussels and did an oyster shot (Fun fact-the larger an oyster the more briny tasting it will be because it is more developed, older. The smaller they are the sweeter they are).

There are many variations of the classic fish stew. I usually choose between saffron, smoked paprika or tarragon. This time the citrusy anise flavor of tarragon was calling out to me. I love the way tarragon converts the tomato broth into something that keeps you guessing. You think you taste spice due to the anise quality but then you taste a slightly medicinal herb quality. The back and forth play is awesome.

A great fish soup is all about technique. Layering flavors is the key to great cooking.

First – season and sear the individual seafood without crowding the pan. When they are 80% cooked take them out and reserve on a plate.

Second – add finely chopped shallots, red bell pepper and garlic to the same pan and mop up all of the flavor in the bottom of the pan. Once the veggies are evenly golden hit them with some white wine. Reduce to half.

Third – add ripe tomatoes if in season otherwise a can of good quality tomatoes (I always choose ones that have the fewest ingredients. I want tomato and nothing else). Simmer covered until the tomatoes break down and you smell a touch of heaven.Fourth – puree that mixture in a blender and add back to the pan.

Fifth – add chopped tarragon leaves and sliced potatoes to the broth and simmer until the potatoes are 95% cooked. Then add the mussels and the vegetables of choice (I used haricot vert and red bell pepper). Simmer until mussels open and veggies are cooked but still have body.

Sixth – add back your 80% cooked fish and turn off the heat. The residual heat will finish cooking the seafood. Divide the goodies evenly between the bowls and then ladle the broth into the bowls. Serve with grilled sliced baguette and garnish with a touch more chopped tarragon.

I take a spoonful of the broth and taste all the clean flavor of the sea before taking my first bite of fish. The broth itself could be a satisfying meal. I then spoon up a tender piece of scallop and a bite of the green bean. The next bite is a mussel that has fallen out of the shell along with a morsel of tender, creamy potato.  There are so many flavors and textures in a fish stew yet each ingredient has its moment to shine. I go from broth to seafood back and forth until there is just enough broth in the bottom of the bowl to mop up with my grilled baguette. Heaven!
Key Flavor Factors

1. Make sure seafood is dry. Get the pan and the oil hot. Season the fish and then sear. Don’t crowd the pan. You may need to do a few batches.
2. The broth should be fairly thin. You don’t want a tomato sauce you want a light broth that fills your mouth with flavor but without weight. The broth is like a spa for the seafood. Keep the heat low and keep the pot covered so the sauce does NOT thicken and reduce.
3. Layer the flavors. Roast and puree the veggies and tomatoes and then add more sliced veggies to the broth. You get lots of flavor this way.
4. By cooking the fish to 80% and then adding it to the broth at the end you get perfectly tender morsels of fish that give off all their juice to the broth.
5. Eat with your eyes closed and lose yourself in culinary heaven for a moment.

Ok, my wife is hungry. I am dying to try these Oregon truffles with some fresh mozzarella, shitake mushrooms and arugula crostini style. I will let you know how that turns out. HAPPY NEW YEAR.

I hope all your dreams come true in 2010!

Eat well, Enjoy life, Be happy

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Annette permalink
    January 2, 2010 11:29 pm

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe!🙂. I’ll go and read some more!

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink
      January 4, 2010 4:30 pm

      Thank you Annette, enjoy and happy New Year

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