Spicy Fish Stew with Saffron and Linguiça

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Happy new year! Like many of you, I spent the last few days reflecting on what I left behind in 2017 and what I want to plan towards in 2018. But mostly, I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief having survived the holiday season, and all of the cooking that came along with it! January has already dropped some excruciatingly cold weather on us, so the one thing that's been on my mind as of late has been hearty soups. I spent New Year's Day cooking a traditional Haitian pumpkin soup, rich with beef neckbones and lots of root veggies. The process was lengthy, in a good way, as it got me back to my happy place in front of the stovetop with my Dutch oven pot. But today, on a weekday, I wanted something equally satisfying minus several hours of cooking. With soups still on my mind, I settled on fish stew, something I hadn't made in ages.

When I think of fish stew I tend to lean towards a Portuguese flavor profile. I love a spicy tomato broth with big chunks of white fish and potatoes. I do like to have a bit of pork for flavor, and linguiça sausage doubled as a vehicle for adding lots of paprika and garlic to the mix. I can't help myself by adding fennel once I head in this direction, a bay leaf was mandatory, and next thing I knew I was also grabbing a vial of saffron. My choice of fish was fresh monkfish, which is also known as "poor man's lobster" due to its texture and slightly sweet flavor. Whether you believe it could pass for lobster or not, just know it's a more interesting choice than cod. Monkfish is one of the ugliest pieces of seafood you'll ever lay eyes on, but don't let that scare you away. I've always found monkfish tails sold as skinned fillets, but it isn't much work if you need to trim them yourself. The flesh holds up to cooking without falling apart too much, which is perfect for a stew. It's also not one of those pieces of fish that will overcook in the blink of an eye. Monkfish will actually need to simmer for a bit of time before becoming tender and flaky, which is another advantage for stew. 

If you were so inclined, this could easily be made with shrimp, mussels, clams, or a number of other white fish, so use what's available to you. I think the major keys to the flavor of the broth are tomatoes, fennel, garlic, paprika, saffron and lobster juice (more on that below!) If you can't find linguiça or chorizo, or simply don't want to include pork, add some smoked paprika and a bit more garlic and you'll still be in good shape. This was a really easy one-pot meal to pull together for dinner tonight, so read on for the recipe!

Spicy Fish Stew with Saffron and Linguiça

Olive oil, as needed
1 lb linguiça or Portuguese chorizo links, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
16 oz chicken or vegetable stock
8 oz lobster juice
14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
Pinch of saffron (about 20 threads)
1 bay leaf
1 lb potatoes, peeled and quartered
1.5 lbs skinned monkfish fillets, chopped into 2" chunks
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp butter
Crusty bread, for serving

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
Yield: Serves 6
Special Equipment: Dutch oven, or other large heavy pot

Coat the bottom of the pot generously with olive oil, and brown the sliced linguiça over medium heat. Once the sausage is caramelized and crisp around the edges, remove it from the pot and set aside.

You shouldn't need to add much oil if at all. Continue by cooking the diced onions and fennel, seasoning with salt and pepper. Once the veggies have softened and started to turn golden brown, stir in the minced garlic and red pepper flakes. I'm a little heavy handed with red pepper, but if you're more sensitive to heat just add a small pinch now and adjust the broth later to your liking.

Next, pour in some stock and use your spoon to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. I used chicken stock here. I rarely have fish stock, but to be honest the next trick takes care of that.

This is my secret ingredient for a lot of seafood dishes. I love the flavor that lobster juice adds, even more so than clam juice (which is an alternative if you have a shellfish allergy.) To me, this is the better bet than using a store bought seafood stock.

Drop in a bay leaf to the simmering broth. Rub the saffron between your fingers to crush it as you sprinkle it into the pot. Saffron has a unique flavor and fragrance - I don't think there's a substitute - and while it's literally the most expensive spice on earth, you luckily don't need much. 

The tomatoes can be added next. Today I happened to have some leftover roasted cherry tomatoes that had already been pureed - one of those weird leftovers that nobody else will just "happen to have" in the fridge, ha. If you're making this in the summer, definitely go for some good fresh tomatoes though! Canned tomatoes are perfectly fine any other time.

Let the broth simmer for a minute or two and give it a taste test for salt and pepper. Add the potatoes, and let those cook until about knife tender. I used red potatoes which I don't typically grab for stews, but they held up really well and I liked that they didn't get too soft. Any white potatoes will be okay. 

When the potatoes are knife tender, which took about 10-15 minutes for me, add the chopped monkfish. Season with salt and pepper and stir it into the stew to cover with broth.

Reduce heat to low and allow the fish to cook through. This should take another 10-15 minutes. If the monkfish is still curled up into a tight ball and slightly chewy, it needs more time. It will flake apart easily when it's done and have a pleasantly tender texture. The potatoes should also be fork tender by this time.

Remove the bay leaf. Return the sausage to the pot, along with chopped fresh parsley.

After a final check for salt and pepper, you're at the finish line. To wrap things up, stir in fresh lemon juice and butter. 

Serve immediately with crusty toasted bread on the side. I recommend sourdough.

Once again, happy new year to all of my readers! I'm certainly excited to hit the ground running this year. I don't have a specific resolution, but consistency is one of my business goals. Getting a blog post in early this month was a promise I made to myself, and I feel great about keeping it. Here's to keeping that same energy all 2018! Stay warm out there!

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  1. I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. I really enjoyed reading this post. big fan, thank you!

  2. This sounds very tasty... will give it a try. Thanks for the clear directions.

  3. I am the member of Geeky Girl's Guide to life that did this and showed it step by step on Instagram. This dish was incredible. So much so that I am making it again next weekend, and inviting my mom over for some!

  4. I searched google for this recipe and was elated to come across you! You're my new go to....I loved your recipe! I did part cod and monkfish and part linguica and chorizo. It was so so good! Thank you.