Winter storms have a way of making me want to cook something that has me over the stove for a good stretch of time. I love a fish stew, but these days you need to be careful if you want to make environmentally responsible seafood choices. The lists of what's sustainable and fine to fish versus what's not can shift often. I also wanted a dish with some heat and depth, without being too thick and heavy — no cream, this isn't a time for chowder. The result? This sustainable seafood stew.
I ended up using longfin squid, farmed Atlantic mussels, and wild Maine shrimp in my stew. Follow my lead, or use whatever is fresh from your local fishmonger. It's difficult to find seafood that is completely free of any environmental baggage, but at least try to avoid fish like Atlantic cod, halibut, red snapper, and imported swordfish from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's no-no list.
I added chili flakes for heat, some pancetta for depth, and some potatoes (I used sweet potatoes, but any will do) for a bit of heft. Pernod or Cointreau give the stew a sweet edge that complements the fennel, tomato, and orange flavors, but if you don't have this sort of liquor laying about, don't worry about your stew failing. It'll still hit the spot.
Sustainable Seafood Stew
Makes 8 to 10 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed pancetta or bacon
2 medium potatoes (any kind), peeled and diced
2 fennel bulbs, outer layer removed, sliced thin, reserving frilly tops
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 cups dry white wine
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
Pinch dried red chili flakes
Pinch saffron threads
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 large sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
4 cups fish stock, store-bought or homemade
3 tablespoons Pernod or Cointreau, optional
1 1/2 pounds (about 2 dozen) mussels, cleaned
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (reserve the heads and shells for the stock)
1 pound squid, mixed bodies and tentacles, bodies sliced into 1/4-inch rings
Crusty bread, to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring constantly, until pancetta begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes, fennel, onion, and garlic and cook slowly over medium heat until the onions begin to soften, about 7 minutes.
Add the wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the paprika, chili flakes, saffron, orange zest, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute more.
Add the tomatoes and stock, and bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the alcohol. After 5 minutes, uncover the stew and add the mussels, shrimp, and squid. Bring to a boil then lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until the seafood is cooked through, taking care not to overcook or it will become rubbery. The mussels should all open, and the shrimp and squid should turn opaque. Discard the bay leaves and any mussels that don't open.
To serve, ladle the stew into deep bowls, garnish with a few sprigs from the fennel tops, and serve with warm crusty bread (sourdough works well here) and sweet butter.