The One Thing You Need for Great Seafood Stew

Food & Wine: Provençal Fish Stew
Provençal Fish Stew Photo © Chris Chen
By Sarah DiGregorio Posted August 26, 2014

Aromatic and oceanic, homemade fish stock is essential for great seafood stew. Chef Mark Sullivan shares his master recipe and three ways to use it. 

Mark Sullivan believes in the power of fish stock, the slow-simmered broth made from fish heads and bones, and aromatics like fennel, celery and garlic. That’s because he knows that great stock—complex, oceanic—is essential for great seafood stews. Sullivan, the chef at San Francisco’s Spruce, discovered an array of such stews while traveling through Mediterranean France, Italy and Spain. He shares those recipes here, all of them with the same first step: asking a fishmonger for the freshest head and bones from a white-fleshed, nonoily fish like snapper or cod. Each recipe is flexible, so swap in whatever fish is freshest at the market. It’s the Mediterranean way.

Step 1: Make the Master Fish Stock

Soak 1 pound fish head and bones (gills removed) in ice water for 1 hour. Drain. In a stockpot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. Add 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped fennel bulb, 4 chopped celery ribs and 4 halved garlic cloves. Cook over low heat, stirring, until soft, 15 minutes. Add the fish head and bones, 1/2 pound mussels, 1/2 pound littleneck clams, one 750-milliliter bottle dry white wine and 4 quarts chicken stock. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour, skimming the foam. Off the heat, add 1 sliced lemon, 6 thyme sprigs, 6 parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf and 1 teaspoon white peppercorns. Steep for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and refrigerate. 

This flavorful stock is the key ingredient in Sullivan's three European-inflected fish stews.

Sicilian Fish Stew
Provençal Fish Stew
Catalan Fish Stew

Related: F&W's Ultimate Guide to Fish Recipes
Global Recipe Guide
The Secret to Silky Chicken Broth: Chicken Feet

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