This seafood stew recipe is based on my recollection of a dish I had at Chicago Restaurant Salpicon. This recollection is based on multiple orders of the dish as well as what I preserved from conversations with the wait staff. It’s a simple recipe from an ingredients perspective but it does require some discipline in execution. The key is building a quality stock and then following the correct order of cooking the seafood. The former relies on pairing with a dried chile puree/sauce, while for the latter you risk overcooked, chewy ingredients and thus a less than stellar stew.
For the chile puree I settled on dried guajillos as the base and blended with water garlic. The puree adds that coastal Mexico element to the dish and helps elevate it. It also another level of taste complexity while maintaining the simplicity of the dish.
Trust me when I say I’ve suffered for your benefit and learned through many trials and equal number of errors. I spent many minutes and dollars on different seafood trying to master this recipe. I didn’t land on all the exact ingredients as Salpicon’s recipe which included clams and baby octopus, but I found a combination that works. It was particularly challenging for me given that I discovered seafood much late in life well into adulthood delaying the development of my seafood palate. “Discovered” is probably the wrong word, as I was aware, but my taste buds never really fully experienced the joy of seafood, only the pain as until I moved to Chicago and got a new allergist I had violent intolerances to fish. Oddly enough most shell fish I was fine with except crab. But it was gill fish – trout, sea bass, salmon, etc. that was off limits. As a kid we had Friday Fish Fries plus Pork Chops. And my MaDear had to always remind me Uncle Slick (king of fried catfish and perch) to use a different grease for the chops.
Uncle Slick was old school and from a different time. In his world food allergies were on the long list of things that could be remedied with a swig of the greatest elixir of all time – Tussin. Though Uncle Slick was gifted on the fryer, MaDear was on full alert during fish fries. They were fun for the family and neighbors but always stressful for her after that one time Uncle Slick slid 3 year old me a catfish sandwich. I don’t recall the incident given my youth, but apparently I did what hungry 3 year old boys do and smashed that sandwich only to experience violent nausea and acute asthma simultaneously.
Initially the family feared demons had taken possession, then it was epilepsy before the nurse neighbor correctly identified the issue and gave me Benadryl until I could get check-out. I’m half kidding about the demons theory, but I’m sure the timing of my baptism was related. In hindsight my question was who feeds a 3 year old an entire fried fish sandwich. I’m sure I probably ate a few fish bones too.
Time heals, and despite my early issues I’ve evolved into a fish snob. For years as a teen and early adult the desire for fish was there, despite knowing it would end badly. Now that I’m on the other side of my fish intolerance, I’m all the better for it physically and mentally but there were a few moments of broken clocks.
- 1 pound calamari rings
- 1 pound firm white fish
- 2 small lobster tails
- 12 jumbo shrimp shelled and deveined
- 1/2 pound sea scallops
- 12 mussels
- 1 chopped medium red onion
- 1 bunch of cilantro finely chopped
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1/2 tbsp coarse ground black pepper
- 1/2 tbsp smoked sweet paprika
- bones from white fish
- shrimp and lobster shells
- 1 gallon of water
- 3 medium carrots roughly chopped
- 1 small white onion roughly chopped
- 1 celery rib coarsely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
Guajillo Chile Puree
- 8 dried guajillo chiles seeded and deveined
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup water
Make the Fish Stock
Rinse/clean the fish bones and put in stockpot with all the ingredients. Bring to a boil and then simmer slowly for 30-40 minutes.
Strain the stock and then pour into a smaller pot. Heat this pot on low heat to maintain hot temperature.
Make the Puree
Boil water in the microwave in a large bowl for 2-3 minutes. Add chiles to the water and place a small saucer on top of the chiles to keep them submerged under the water. Let sit for 15-20 minutes until chiles are fully softened.
Drain the chiles and transfer to a blender. Add the garlic and water and puree to make a sauce.
Pour the puree into the stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. I completed this step the night before, seasoned further and then refrigerated to let the flavors come together further. However you can go right to the next step, just make sure you continue simmering so the stock is hot when the stew is ready.
Make the Stew
Transfer about 3 cups of the stock to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the seasonings and mussels and cook until they open - about 4-5 minutes. Get rid of any mussels that fail to open.
Remove the mussels and place in large serving bowl.
Add the lobster to the pot and simmer until begins turning opaque no more than 5 minutes.
Transfer the lobster to bowl and then cook the shrimp in the stock for 2 minutes. continue cooking but add the scallops for an additional two minutes and the calamari for another minute. Remove all ingredients from the pot and add to the seafood bowl.
Serve fish in individual bowls topping with the hot stock, onions, cilantro, and lime wedges.