Perfect for early fall, this Mediterranean-style fish stew is a combination of some of my favorite flavors and is perfect for a celebratory meal with friends or family. Succulent local squid, clams and monkfish, paired with shrimp and mussels, are simmered in a rich garlicky sauce of late-season tomatoes. The scarcity of this wonderful dish on restaurant menus inspired me to create my own version, and now is the perfect time of year to prepare and serve it. Once you have sourced and prepped the freshest of ingredients, the three-part cooking process is a breeze. The stew is ladled over garlicky toasted bread, bouillabaisse style, and needs no more accompaniment than a glass or two of crisp local white wine to wash it down.
In a nod to its Spanish origins, the clams and mussels are poached in a broth of white wine enriched with dry sherry. You should purchase only a fino sherry, which is perfect for cooking (also good for drinking over ice!) and steer clear of the sweeter varieties. I purchased my fish at Southold Fish Market and called ahead to make sure fresh local squid and monkfish were available. If they are not able to clean the squid for you, just reference YouTube for clear and concise instructions. It is really a simple process and is a great skill to master. You can use a variety of firm white fish, but I usually splurge on monkfish and halibut, which will not disintegrate at all while cooking. If you are looking for budget options, cod or hake work well. The addition of both sweet and smoked Spanish paprika gives the dish an extra depth and richness. I like to bring the stew to the table in the cooking pan so that everyone can enjoy the wonderful aroma and colors as it is served. Any leftovers are delicious served over pasta.
18 littleneck clams
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
¾ cup dry sherry, either Fino or Manzanilla
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic minced
6 large ripe plum tomatoes peeled, seeded and chopped
(or a 15 oz can good quality peeled plum tomatoes)
1 ½ Tbsp. tomato puree (use a good Italian brand such as Mutti)
1 tsp. sweet paprika
½ tsp. smoked paprika
1½ tsp. Aleppo pepper or a whole dried red chili
¼ cup plus 2tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¾ lbs. medium shrimp in shells
¾ lbs. firm white fish such as Monkfish or Halibut cut into 1 ½ inch chunks
2 fresh local squid, cleaned and sliced into half-inch rings
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
A handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
4 thick slices of sourdough bread or ciabatta
Large clove of garlic peeled
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Place the clams in a large colander in the sink and rinse thoroughly under running water. Scrub to remove any debris such as seaweed, sand or barnacles, and discard any that are open. Put the wine, sherry and bay leaves in a large pan with a lid. Bring to the boil and add the clams and mussels. Replace the lid and lower heat to a simmer and cook until they have opened (4-5 minutes). Discard any that have not opened, place in a bowl and set aside. Remove the bay leaves and reserve the cooking liquid.
Heat 2 Tbsp.olive oil in another pan, add the onion and cook on low heat without browning. Add the garlic and sauté for a further two minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they have softened and melted. Add the paprika and Aleppo pepper or whole dried chili and simmer until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. The sauce can be prepared a few hours ahead and refrigerated.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large frying pan or shallow cast iron casserole such as Le Creuset. Place the flour and a pinch of salt on a shallow plate and dust the fish chunks, shrimp, and squid with a light coating. Sauté on medium heat until light golden color. Add the tomato sauce and reserved cooking liquid and simmer mixture over medium heat for five minutes. Remove most of the clams and mussels from their shells and add to the stew, together with the reserved cooking liquid. Set aside six of each in the shell for garnish. Simmer the stew for a further 10 minutes before stirring in the parsley, sea salt and fresh black pepper and topping with the remaining shellfish and a good glug of olive oil.
While the stew is simmering, lightly toast the bread slices, before rubbing with the raw garlic clove and drizzling with olive oil. To serve, place a slice of bread in each of four large, shallow serving bowls and ladle over a generous portion of stew.