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Halibut and Mussel Stew with Fennel, Peppers, and Saffron

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Serves four.

  • To learn more, read:
    Flex Your Meals
  • by Ivy Manning from Fine Cooking
    Issue 103

This seafood stew, brimming with some of Spain's most celebrated flavors, is easily adaptable to serve meat-lovers and vegetarians alike: see the variation below to serve one vegetarian, or check out the completely meatless version of the stew.

  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more for the bread
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced (2 cups)
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, stalks and fronds removed, quartered lengthwise, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise (4 cups)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise (3/4 cup)
  • 1 small red bell pepper, stem, ribs, and seeds removed and discarded; flesh thinly sliced lengthwise (1-1/2 cups)
  • 3 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 medium cloves garlic (1 minced, 1 whole)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Albariño
  • One 15.5-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/8  tsp. pimentón (smoked paprika)
  • 2 pinches saffron
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 baguette slices, 3/4 inch thick
  • 11 oz. skinless halibut fillets or other firm white fish, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 13 mussels, scrubbed and debearded

Heat the oil in a 5-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, carrot, and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until the liquid has reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add 3-1/2 cups of water, the chickpeas, thyme, pimentón, saffron, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the vegetables are tender and the stew has thickened slightly, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler on high. Put the bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet and brush both sides with oil. Broil, flipping once, until both sides are golden-brown, about 4 minutes total. Remove from the oven and rub each slice with the whole clove of garlic.

Gently stir the halibut and mussels into the stew, cover, and simmer until all the mussels have opened and the fish is cooked through, 4 to 8 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Ladle into wide, shallow bowls and serve with the garlic toasts.

Variations

To serve 1 vegetarian and 3 meat lovers: Reduce the halibut to 8 oz. and the mussels to 10. Just before stirring the halibut and mussels into the stew, transfer 2 cups of the stew to a wide, shallow bowl, cover and keep warm while you cook the fish and mussels in the remaining stew. Sprinkle the vegetarian stew with 2 Tbs. grated Manchego and serve with one of the garlic toasts.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 470; Fat (g): 14; Fat Calories (kcal): 130; Saturated Fat (g): 2; Protein (g): 34; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 7; Carbohydrates (g): 48; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3; Sodium (mg): 770; Cholesterol (mg): 40; Fiber (g): 13;

Photo: Scott Phillips

We loved this so much we made it for guests. I substituted Manila clams instead of the mussels and one time added shrimp too. I did not have saffron so I substituted 2 star anise in cheese cloth which complimented the fennel flavor. Mine was not bland at all it had a huge depth of flavor. Admittedly when the stock reduced and got thick I did add a bit of salt to bring out more flavor. This also doubles easily!

I was disappointed in this recipe as well. The stew was not very flavorful. No depth. I was trying to come up with how I could tweak the recipe so that I wouldn't have to waste the good mussels and halibut I bought. I ended up completing the recipe exactly as written. I was able to give it two stars because it did taste better when eaten with the garlicky baguette. But the stew itself was bland. I would not make it again.

I was very disappointed with this recipe. It was very bland: 1/8 tsp. pimenton in that much volume of liquid did nothing to add any flavor. No other spices? And I believe the amount of onion suggested in the recipe overpoweres the fennel with its sweetness.

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