This classic Provençal seafood stew is loaded with clams, lobster and fish in a broth delicately flavored with fennel and pastis, a licorice-flavored aperitif. "There are no real rules to this dish except to use what's fresh," chef Ethan Stowell says. Make or buy a good fish stock and add different seafood at different times, so nothing is under- or overcooked (clams go in first; snapper and halibut go in last). The rouille, a sauce made with cayenne, garlic, bread crumbs and olive oil, is the perfect finishing touch.
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One 3-inch piece of baguette, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 tablespoons water
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 fennel bulb—fronds reserved, bulb cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, 3 coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 bay leaves
Pinch of saffron threads
2 tablespoons pastis or Pernod
5 cups store-bought fish stock
One 2-pound live lobster
Eight 1/2-inch-thick baguette slices, cut on the bias
3 Yukon Gold potatoes (1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound monkfish, cut into sixteen 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound skinless red snapper fillets, cut into sixteen 1 1/2-inch pieces
In a mini food processor, sprinkle the diced bread with the water and let stand until the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cayenne and salt and process until the bread and garlic are coarsely chopped. With the machine on, drizzle in the olive oil and process until the rouille is smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.
In a very large, deep skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the leeks, onion, fennel and chopped garlic and cook over moderate heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, saffron and pastis and bring to a boil. Add the fish stock and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
In a food processor, pulse the vegetables and broth to a coarse puree. Strain through a fine sieve set over the skillet.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the lobster and cook until it turns bright red, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse the lobster under cold water until cool enough to handle. Remove the tail, claw and knuckle meat and cut into 1-inch pieces.
Preheat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and broil them 6 inches from the heat for about 1 minute per side, until the slices are golden brown around the edges. Rub each slice with the remaining whole garlic clove and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Add the potatoes and cayenne pepper to the broth and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately high heat until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add the clams, cover and cook over moderate heat until they just begin to open, about 3 minutes. Add the monkfish, cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the lobster, snapper and halibut, cover and simmer until the clams are open and all the fish is cooked through, about 4 minutes.
Set a baguette toast in each of 8 shallow bowls. Ladle the fish and broth over the toasts and top each serving with 1 tablespoon of the rouille. Sprinkle with fennel fronds and serve immediately.
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