Unfussy Fare

Provençal Seafood Stew


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.

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.


11 Responses to “Provençal Seafood Stew”

  1. hungry dog says:

    This does indeed sound fabulous. I need more convincing on the Pernod, though. I skipped it for another bouillebaisse recipe recently–couldn’t bring myself to drop the cash–and it tasted pretty good without it. I do trust you though. Perhaps it is worth the investment. And what is it about French women, they always look tres chic!

  2. Gillian says:

    Hi Hungry: Maybe you have a friend with a well-stocked liquor cabinet who would spot you a couple tablespoons of Pernod, so you can sample? I never have found a small bottle of Pernod. I always have to buy the big one, which lasts me years. It’s totally worth it. I’m thinking of using Pernod in a beef braise of some sort. It’s just such a unique flavor, and this is the only recipe I use that calls for it. I wonder if it might work in a boozy dessert of some sort, too? Hmmm. I’m inspired to find more uses for my big bottle of Pernod, besides posing for pictures in the dining room.

  3. Pamela Perry says:

    First off, I love Pernod, Ricard or any pastis for that matter. I also love Campari, bitters … the more off-putting the better. So to Hungry I say – trust Gill on this one.

    Secondly, my favorite pastis moment happened in that little French restaurant in NW (on 14th maybe) … prior to ordering we asked the waiter (very French and probably for hire) what he thought of Ricard versus Pernod. Quintessentially French he gave a couple of throaty coughs (from smoking and general disdain for such ridiculous questions), squished his face as if someone had just lit a stink bomb under our table and said “RICARD, es for de riche, Pernod, pt, pt, pt, es for ze poor” You know that sound… pt, pt, pt … what it might sound like if one has eaten the letter ‘P’, found out there’s a reason the word poop begins and ends with it and then can’t spit it out fast enough … that night we drank Ricard. French shame, it’s the worst.

    Thirdly, the French women and fashion thing. I too have been fascinated by it for a lifetime. It’s the appearance of carelessness to which they throw on a scarf with a vintage suit and the most sumptuous pair of leather boots with scuffs in just the right places. Maybe they’re just drunk?

    I think I’ll try a little Pernod and a steaming bowl of fool-ya-baisse before I dress for the day. Thanks Gil!

  4. Gillian says:

    Yeah, French waiters can be tres snobby. Kind of makes me want to put ketchup on my escargot. I’m delighted to hear I’m drinking the low-brow liqueur. And actually, of all the American women I know, I nominate you most likely to be confused for a Parisian. You’re great with the accessories. Is that a symptom of excessive drinking? The first step is to admit you have a problem….

  5. Evan says:

    I think I ate this ate your house a few years ago. Delicious! I remember the saffron, if I am remembering clearly, which is not a sure thing, the clarity of my memory being clouded by my emerging shellfish allergy. But enough of that! The recipe was delicious.

  6. Gillian says:

    Hi Evan: Yes, I’ve subjected many people to this soup. I believe you’re the only one who had a heinous allergic reaction, though. So glad I didn’t kill you. That would’ve really cast a pall on my love of this recipe. You could make it with just fish and skip the allergens.

  7. Pamela Perry says:

    I had Lisa’s version (sans a couple of missing ingredients, for which I forgave her since she made up for it by adding bacon) of this soup on Tuesday night at a certain birthday party. The only negative was that I didn’t have a second bowl.

  8. Robin says:

    to Pam who loves ever pastis, campari, pernod, and the like (the more offputting the better)….. try Cynar….. which I believe is made from artichokes….. and I think you will revise that statement…. tastes like jaegermeister on crack….

  9. Andy says:

    I have that cookbook and made that recipe once. Yes, it was easy and good. The late great Pierre had the best feel for seasoning of any chef writing cookbooks. The recipe is always on my shortlist of things I should make. Just remembered that this weekend is Valentine’s Day and hate to go out then. Maybe?

  10. Gillian says:

    Yes, Andy, Pierre was a master. And eating in is always a good move on Valentine’s Day. Which is still a couple weeks away, BTW. More time to menu-plan…

  11. Amelia says:

    So glad I found this while searching for a new seafood stew to cook tonight. I am a huge admirer and fan of Pierre Franey (same with Jaques Pepin and Julia), masters of cooking unlike the celebrity bunch that is everywhere these days. Can’t wait to make it.

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