I have had many a fish and tomato stew in my lifetime, and I can't think of one that I didn't like. I love courtbouillon, ciopinno, bouillabaise, and Jamaican brown fish stew, just to name a few. Though these signature dishes may have some similarities, they each have distinctive elements that make them unique. But one of the best I have ever had was in a small Central European eatery where a beautiful, garlicky stew was served with . . . wait for it . . . polenta!
That's right - Croatian fish stew is a brilliant way to enjoy fish and grits. And I cannot say enough how amazing this stew was (plus I had a bit of a hangover, which made it even better.) The best part is that this recipe is adaptable to Carolina shrimp and catfish, and is also very easy. You will be amazed at the depth of flavor from just a few ingredients. This stew has a lot or garlic, a lot of olive oil, and a ton of soul. Serve with fluffy grits and good bread for dipping.
2 lbs. fresh, firm catfish fillets
1 lb. large fresh shrimp (the bigger the better!)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 leek, white and green parts, halved, rinsed, dried, and julienned (thinly sliced)
1 stalk celery, stalk and leaves finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs. roma tomatoes or 1 can (28 oz.) peeled whole tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of saffron
1 1/4 cups water
Chopped green onions, to garnish
1. Puree 3/4 cup of the olive oil with a little more than half of the garlic and parsley until smooth.
2. Peel and de-vein the shrimp. Discard the veins and place the shells in a small saucepan. Cover with the water, add the saffron, and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Place the shrimp in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Cut the catfish into large pieces (2" to 3" wide). Place in the bowl with the shrimp. Pour the olive oil and garlic paste all over the shrimp and fish and toss gently with your hands to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge for 20 minutes to marinate.
4. While the fish and shrimp are marinating, prepare the tomatoes. If using fresh tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to a full boil and fill another pot or bowl with ice water and put on the counter. Make a small 'x' on the bottom of each tomato with a small knife, then drop into the boiling water. Bring back to a boil. After about 1 minute remove each tomato from the pot with a slotted spoon and dunk into the ice water. Drain the tomatoes on paper towels, then peel the skin away. Discard the skin, then chop the tomatoes, being careful to preserve the tomato juices. Scrape the tomatoes and their juices into a bowl and set aside.
If using canned tomatoes, remove each tomato to a large bowl, then crush them with your hands. Set aside.
5. In yet another bowl, place the remaining garlic, onions, leeks, and celery. Toss with the remaining olive oil.
6. Turn off the shrimp and saffron stock. Remove the shells and skim to remove any solids from the surface.
7. Remove the fish and shrimp from the fridge. Pour in the lemon juice and toss gently with your hands to distribute.
8. Now you are ready to assemble your stew. Heat a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half of the vegetables, then half of just the catfish. Then add another layer with the rest of the vegetables, and then the rest of the catfish. Spread over all of the tomatoes and their juice to cover the top layer of the stew. Then, pour over the white wine and shrimp and saffron stock. Cover and lower the heat to a gentle simmer (medium-low) and cook for about 12 minutes.
9. Remove the lid and add the shrimp to the pot. Put the lid back on and cook for another 5-6 minutes.
10. Ladle the stew into bowls.