Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Seafood Tomato Stew

For me, April is perfect stew weather.  The days are soggy, the nights are chilly, and nice light stew--as apposed to a rich bisque or a heavy pureed soup--is exactly what spring is all about.  Plus, with the heat of summer steaming towards us, these are the last days such a fun and delightful dish is desirable.

Stews, and soups in general, are among my favorite things to cook.  They're all about taking your time and layering in flavor ingredient by ingredient.  It's not something you should rush. A good stew should take at least an hour (two or three even) just to simmer.  The flavors need that time to commingle and deepen.

We choose to stew up some shellfish for this one because I feel as though most home cooks shy away from these guys.  Really you shouldn't.  They're the biggest, most delicious bang for your buck in terms of seafood and ridiculously easy to cook.  The CSA line up for this recipe includes that nice spinach and potatoes from this week and the wacky carrot from a few weeks ago.  This dish also presented a great use for the frozen New Jersey tomatoes we got awhile back.

A note on clams and shellfish:  These creatures are bottom feeders.  They literally eat shit and dead things. And, when they're bagged up for market, marinade in their own excrement.  That said, they're also some of the most delightful of the sea's offerings.  It's all how they're handled.  Firstly, always buy fresh.  Don't waste your time with frozen garbage.  You want those babies alive and kicking when you bring them home.  Secondly, WASH THEM.  Clams are often really sandy and mussels can be slimy and smelly, so rinse them thoroughly using a colander. Pull the beards off the mussels (the little ropey tassels often pinched in their shells).  Be sure to toss any dead ones.  Check any open shellfish by squeezing their shells closed a few times with your fingers.  If they're unresponsive and remain wide open, they're trash.

Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time 1 hour 30 mins

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper diced
  • 4 small potatoes
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 can (6 oz. tomato paste)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock.  We used water and added bouillon.
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 6 little neck clams
  • 1/2 pound PEI mussels
  • 1/2 bay scallops
  • Boil potatoes skin on in heavily salted water until tender throughout, about 20 mins. Set aside to cool.
  • Place a 4 quart pan over medium heat and oil generously with olive oil.  Add onions and cook until they begin to turn golden.
  • Add carrot and sweat for 5 minutes.  Add the pepper and sweat until it becomes tender.  Add the garlic and allow it to brown slightly.
  • Add tomato paste and increase heat to caramelize.  You want to start seeing brown stuff (called fond) collecting on the bottom of the pan.  Add chili flake at this step if you prefer a little heat.
  • After a good amount of fond has collected, add white wine to deglaze the pan.  Allow the wine a few minutes to reduce fully.  In the meantime scrape any remaining fond from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  This where a lot of the stew's flavor will come from.
  • Add water or stock and let simmer covered on low heat for an hour, skimming any impurities that rise to the surface.  
  • While the stew is simmering, wash your shellfish and peel your potatoes.
  • Add potatoes and clams together and cover with a lid.  
  • After 5 -7 minutes, add mussels.  Clams have a longer cook time than mussels or scallops. The idea is to have the clams and mussels open at approximately the same time to avoid over-cooking them.
  • When they begin to open add in your scallops (which cook almost instantly) and spinach.
  • Cut heat and finish with chopped parsley and lemon juice.

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