Have you ever been watching a cooking show and thought to yourself, “I could totally rock that out”???
A few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef with Anne Burrell on the Food Network, and she made this amazing fish stew called… (now, I’m going to provide the link to her recipe, but you have to promise you’ll check out what I did FIRST before you hop over there… mine is a little different… promise???!??) Okay… she made this amazing fish stew called Pacific Cod and Clam Cacciucco. (I’ll know if you clicked over there before reading all of this – just sayin’.)
Of all the chefs on FN, I think I have been inspired the most by dishes Chef Anne creates on her show. Now, although I did not follow her recipe and didn’t even look it up before making my own, to be honest, I was truly inspired and decided to create my own version of a Cacciucco (a Tuscan Fish Stew).
There are three main components to this dish: the fish stock, the searing of the seafood, the building of the stew. It’s best to do all your prep, per the norm. If you’re a “do as you go” cook, this stew will take you forever. So, mise en place, people! Mise En Place!
I started with the fish stock.
When I went to the fishmonger to pick up my Halibut, Littleneck Clams, Scallops and Gulf Shrimp, I also asked for fish bones to build a stock. He said he didn’t have any on hand but pointed me in the direction of Bar Harbor fish stock in the stock aisle, saying it was the best out there. It’s a canned stock (don’t judge – I tweaked it, foodies – put the shrimp forks down). I knew I would have to build a ton of flavor in order for my Cacciucco to remotely taste as good as what I imagined Chef Anne’s version tasted like; so, I made sure to add tons of herbs to create a bouquet, as well as used some bay leaves, carrots and onions for the fish stock base.
1 TB Olive Oil
4 Smashed Garlic Cloves, skins removed
½ Huge Carrot, roughly chopped (nobody cares, it’s stock base)
½ Onion, roughly chopped (again, save the knife skills for the stew itself)
3 Bay Leaves
1 Bouquet, including fresh oregano, marjoram, thyme, tarragon
Shrimp Shells from prepping the shrimp
1 Can Bar Harbor Fish Stock
Juice from ½ a Lemon
Salt / Pepper for Seasoning
On medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic, carrot and onion and sauté until the onion starts to create that heavenly smell in combination with the garlic and barely starts to turn translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add in the bay leaves, bouquet and shrimp shells and continue to sauté until you can see that the shrimp are turning pink, approximately 4 minutes or so. Add in the can of fish stock and allow to simmer on medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes and then add the lemon juice and additional salt and pepper to taste. Leave on a low, rolling simmer while you cook the rest of the dish, as you will want to fortify the flavors prior to adding it to your Cacciucco base.
Next up was the Cacciucco base, and I knew this was going to be fun. Part of the fun was knowing what was already in my refrigerator that I could add to my own version. Chef Anne used tomato broth she created from pureeing whole peeled tomatoes, and I used fire roasted tomatoes that had some chunk to them. There are no mushrooms in hers, but I used oyster mushrooms as part of my Cacciucco base (not authentic, I know… but I didn’t say I followed the rules, now did I?) And, for my version, I added more herbs like flat leaf parsley and also capers to the mix… just because. Here’s the base:
1 TB Olive Oil
5 Minced Garlic Cloves
½ Huge Carrot, medium dice (this is where your knife skills matter; cooking evenly is muy importante or molto importante in this case)
½ Onion, medium dice
1 Shallot, medium dice
1 Oyster Mushroom Bunch, medium dice (these will not look perfect – it’s okay; don’t waste time trying to make squares out of spongy irregularly shaped objects – just make
them the same general size)
1 ½ tsp Capers, drained
½ Cup White Wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc – you can use any good white wine – something you’d drink)
2 TB Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped
1 TB Fresh Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, Tarragon combined, roughly chopped
1 tsp Saffron Threads
1 Can Fire Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic
Juice from ½ a Lemon
Salt / Pepper for Seasoning
On medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic, carrot, onion and shallot and sauté until the onions start to turn translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add in the oyster mushrooms and capers and continue to sauté until you can see that everything is starting to cook down, approximately 4 minutes or so. Add in the white wine to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up any fond (yummy goodness that may stick to the pan while sautéing) and then allow to simmer on medium-high heat until the wine starts to cook down, approximately 3 minutes.
Add in the herbs and the saffron and cook for another 2 minutes or so. The sauce may start to turn a bright yellow/orange/red color. That’s the saffron at work! Then add the fire roasted tomatoes and stir. Gradually add the fish stock (ladle in the broth only) and then add lemon juice and additional salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat down to low-medium and get ready to start adding the seafood.
Things to Remember When Prepping Your Seafood:
- Nobody wants to eat shrimp poo; so, clean and devein your shrimp after you unshell them.
- Nobody wants to eat tough scallop muscle; so, remove that odd little tough piece that may be holding on to the scallop.
- Nobody wants to eat scales and bones; even though the filet of Halibut from the fishmonger shouldn’t have either of these, just run over your Halibut closely to remove any unfriendlies.
- Nobody wants to eat sand or grit; so, wash your tightly sealed clams to scrub off any debris.
- Clams should be completely closed with no “give”. If they are already open or have “give”, throw them away. This is a killer Cacciucco recipe, but let’s not take that literally, shall we???
Okay, so after you’ve made sure people will be happy and more importantly, not dead, after eating your seafood, the next part is to do a quick sear. You don’t want to cook the seafood all the way through because you want it to finish off in your stew. What you do want is beautiful color on the seafood prior to placing into the Cacciucco base.
First, however, you will add your cleaned and tightly sealed clams to the stew and then cover the pot. Clams will take a bit longer to open and incorporate their beautiful flavors into the base. So, add those in first, cover and move on to the searing of the seafood. I had six of them in mine, as my recipe is just for 2-3 servings.
2 Halibut Filets, thick
4 Scallops, large
3 Gulf Shrimp, large
Take a touch of olive oil (and a bit of butter if you wish) to a frying pan and add the Halibut, Scallops and Shrimp to the pan without crowding them. You want to add “beautiful brown food” to your base, as Chef Anne would say, not steamed seafood. Crowding the pan won’t get anything brown. Once everything is quickly browned but not cooked through, transfer to the Cacciucco base which should now have some clams opening up. Allow everything to cook through, approximately 5 minutes, and then it’s time to serve up!
Grab a nice, deep bowl and add the base, ladling the seafood into the bowl but reserving the clams. Once you’ve loaded the bowl, take the clams and top everything off, arranging the seafood to feature all of their glory. Add just a touch more of roughly chopped parsley to the party and serve with toasted, crusty bread that’s been drizzled with olive oil or butter and topped with parmesan cheese if you wish!
I have to tell you that this is probably one of my very favorite dishes I’ve ever made. It was definitely inspired by what Chef Anne did but completely my own, and it was awesome. I hope you make this at home. I know I will definitely be making this again!