Fish Stew: For Now or Later

It has been a long time since I spent Christmas Eve in New York with Gran Fran and Joe. My sister is here in San Francisco and we have our own family gatherings, but I do miss Gran Fran's Feast of the Seven Fishes. We do a pretty good job of it, if I may say so myself, out here in SF.

I remember one of the first times she made Boulliabase (which is essentially the same sort of recipe as the below). We drove out to the docks in Long Island and got the freshest shellfish there was. A story for another time, was when we got live Lobsters from the same fishermen and I had to sit in the back of the car with a plastic bag of crawling Lobsters near my feet.

But  I digress. My tale today is about making this stew, and serving it to your friends and family as part of any celebration or just as a weekend treat. You may have noticed, I have a thing for soups. Well, stews rank right up there, so this is another favorite of mine.

Gran Fran always uses the liquor Anisette mixed with vermouth for her version. I don't always have that in my cupboard, so use dry vermouth with fennel seeds. Let me tell you, there is a huge difference. The Anisette has a depth of flavor that you just can't get with my version. But, of course, as I always say, make do with what you have and you'll still end up with a great dish.

When I was home during Thanksgiving, Gran Fran was kind enough to make this wonderful fish stew for me. She let me take pictures while she cooked. I usually cook and shoot everything I post. It was eye-opening to try and work in real-time shots while Gran Fran cooked and not get in her way. We often communicate via yelling (not I'm angry-type yelling, more of an I'm just trying to make my point kind of yelling). And so, you can imagine, that Joe decided to excuse himself from this particular event, hiding out in their office.

In the end, the food was wonderful and I loved being able to document Gran Fran while she actually cooks. When she posts on her blog, I end up cooking the recipes myself here in SF and posting pictures for her. Oh the greatness of technology. But, there is nothing like having a tried-and-true dish made by the person who first served it to you. Mine is always good (and my sister and her husband's versions are great, too), but Gran Fran just adds a certain something.

Make this and add your own personal touches. Except for the method, you can add or subtract any amounts of fish to your liking.

Merry Christmas to you all!

recipe courtesy of Fran Claro, reposted from The Italian Pantry

Friday Night Fish Soup

Serves six

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespons tomato paste
  • 4 tablespoons anisette or other licorice-flavored liqueur
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • 1 1/2 pounds cod fillet, skinned, rinsed
  • 3 dozen little neck clams, well scrubbed
  • 1 pound mussels, debearded and well scrubbed
  1. Warm oliveoil in a pot large enough to hold all ingredients.
  2. Add vegetables; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Saute vegetables until golden, about 15 minutes.
  4. Add tomato paste;  saute over low heat 10 minutes.
  5. Add anisette and vermouth; reduce by half.
  6. Add herbs, pepper flakes; cover all ingredients with boiling water.
  7. Bring to boil; reduce to simmer.
  8. Partially cover; simmer 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
  9. Add cod; simmer 10 minutes.
  10. Return soup to boil.
  11. Add clams and mussels.
  12. After 7 minutes, check if shellfish open; remove from shells.
  13. Cook shellfish until most open;  discard any that have  not opened.
  14. Add shelled seafood to soup.
  15. Serve soup with crusty bread.