If you try one recipe from this blog, let it be this Provencal Seafood Stew. It’s a wonder of elegant simplicity. The deep fragrance and perfectly balanced flavors deliver the goods with every mouthful. So frenchy and fabulous is this stew that one bite magically transports me to a sidewalk table at a French bistro, where my understated outfit is offset by the perfect scarf, earrings, and heels. (I have a rich fantasy life. I’ve never had a talent for accessorizing. How do Parisian women do it?)
Not only is this soup drop-dead delicious, it’s also a blue-ribbon work-night recipe. By this I mean your soup is done fifteen minutes from the time you start chopping the onion. I do not exaggerate. The stew is sort of a simple riff on bouillabaisse. (Bouillabaisse purists can just relax. I’m not saying it IS bouillabaisse, I’m just saying it borrows some of the complicated flavors to truly excellent effect.)
The only remotely fussy thing about this recipe is that it calls for two things you may not have on hand. Since I discovered this recipe many years ago, I am never without them. They keep. One is saffron. (It’s cheap at Trader Joe’s.) The other is Pernod, which is an anise-flavored liqueur.
Pernod is the key ingredient that elevates this soup into something really special. If you buy Pernod and don’t like this soup, I will personally refund your money. I’m kidding. But I am truly confident that you won’t regret your purchase, even if you’re not a fan of anise, and even if it seems excessive to buy a whole bottle of booze when the recipe calls for two tablespoons. This is one of those times in life when you must make a leap of faith. Trust me. Your taste buds will thank you. Your loved ones will thank you. Your neighbor who gets a whiff of the soup out the kitchen window will thank you.
I think this stew is best served with a baguette, a flowery French white wine, and a soft, smelly French cheese. And maybe a suave French waiter, if you’ve got one of those handy. You can substitute any kind of fish and shellfish you like. Mussels are a nice addition.
PROVENCAL SEAFOOD STEW – serves four
adapted from a recipe in Cuisine Rapide by Pierre Franey
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups canned diced tomatoes, with their juice
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
¾ pound snapper or other fish filet, cut into one-inch cubes
½ pound sea scallops, quartered or bay scallops, whole
2 tablespoons Pernod (or Ricard)
¼ cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, garlic and saffron and sauté for about three minutes.
Add wine, tomatoes, thyme, pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for five minutes.
Add seafood. Cover and cook for five minutes.
Add Pernod and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.