Seafood, Fennel and Saffron Stew

Seafood, Fennel and Saffron Stew

I recently made an early morning trip to the Maine Avenue Fish Market in D.C. - my first visit in over a decade.   I used to walk to the market almost every weekend for live crabs, shrimp, or Porgies when I lived just a few blocks away.  Back then, the market still had a very 'local' feel and was about as unpretentious as it gets.  Southwest hadn't yet drawn the attention of developers and the community was economically diverse - a mix of townhomes, apartment buildings, and Section 8 housing.  I loved living there - it was safe, quiet, and I could walk to work.  I even came to find out that a Supreme Court Justice lived in my neighborhood because I often saw him at the grocery store.

Thanks to an extreme makeover, the Waterfront now draws folks from all over the city, and real estate prices have skyrocketed.  That being said, the Waterfront is beautiful.  It boasts chic restaurants, a lovely boardwalk, and even a winery.  It is no surprise that the market now offers a much wider range of seafood, produce, and other food related knick-knacks.  Not all of the seafood is local - there are offerings from up and down the Atlantic Coast as well as the Gulf, but fish does come in to the market whole so you can look it in the eye to see if it is fresh.

I like to make fish for dinner on Friday all year long, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh fish is in a rich broth with loads of aromatics.  There are a multitude of recipes, but by far one of the most famous is Bouillabaisse, a quintessentially French combination of garlic, vegetables, and saffron with fennel and Pernod.  I happen to like Pernod, but it is is quite sweet, and no of the other grown ups in my family likes to drink it, so I don't keep it around.  But, at a recent Makers Meal in D.C. I was introduced to Don Ciccio & Figli's beautiful Finocchieto aperitif, which is more lifted than Pernod and a lot less sweet.  Not only did it work perfectly in the fish marinade, but I made a nice, refreshing cocktail to sip while cooking.  

Traditional bouillabaisse features firm, Mediterranean fish and perfect fish stock.  But I particularly love the taste of salmon in stew, so I put most of my effort into making a really good stock.  You will need to get fresh shrimp in their shells and some fish heads and bones from your fishmonger for the stock.  I also serve each bowl of stew with a dollop of very traditional French roasted red pepper sauce ("Rouille") which is worth the extra bit of time to whirl it together together in a food processor.

Give yourself a couple of hours to make this dish -  you will need to marinate the fish first and make your stock, and another 30 minutes or so to pull it all together. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad.

Serves 6.


For the fish:

1/2 lb. large shrimp, fresh, with shells, and preferably head-on. Peel and devein the shrimp but reserve the shells and heads for stock.

9 oz. salmon (about 2 fillets), skin removed and cut into 1 1/2" pieces

9 oz. haddock (about 2 fillets), skin removed and cut into 1 1/2" pieces

1/2 c. olive oil

3 tablespoons Don Ciccio e Figli "Finocchieto" or Pernod

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon saffron threads

1/4 c. shredded basil

1/4 c. chopped parsley

Fish Stock:

1/2 c. olive oil

2 c. chopped onions

1 fennel bulb, chopped (remove the stems ands discard)

1 c. chopped carrots

1/2 c. chopped parsnips

2 heads of garlic, outer paper removed but heads kept intact

2 leeks, green and white parts, chopped

2 roma tomatoes, quartered

4 cups dry white wine

Reserved shrimp shells and heads

2 pounds fish heads and frames

1 cup parsley stems

2 bay leaves

5 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh tarragon

4 cups of water

2 teaspoons salt

Generous pinch of saffron threads

2 tablespoons preserved lemons (optional) or a 2" piece of orange zest

To finish:

10 littleneck clams, scrubbed

Chopped parsley

1/2 c. sautéed fennel (optional)

Red-pepper sauce (recipe to follow)

Step One (Fish):

Place all of the fish, shrimp, olive oil, liquor, salt, garlic, basil, parsley, and saffron in a large bowl and toss gently until the fish is coated.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours.

Step Two (Stock):

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, fennel, carrots, and parsnip and cover the pot to 'sweat' the vegetables for 15 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes, being careful not to burn.

2. Place the garlic on your cutting board and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap.  Using a rolling pin, crab mallet, or even a heavy can, pound the garlic until it is well smashed.  Scrape all of the garlic into the pot with the vegetables.  Stir once or twice, then add the leeks.  Stir again and let cook for another 5-10 minutes until the leeks are soft, stirring frequently.

3.  Add the tomatoes once to the pot and stir once.  

4.  Pour in the wine, then add the shrimp shells, fish heads and frames, parsley stems, bay leaves, thyme, tarragon, salt, and water.  Bring up to a lazy simmer and cook, uncovered for an hour, stirring occasionally.  Check frequently to make sure that the stock does not come to a boil. 

5.  Turn off the heat.  Add the saffron and preserved lemons or orange zest to the stock.  Stir once  and cover the pot.  Let stand for 10 minutes (do not turn the heat back on!)

6. After the 10 minutes, strain the stock into a large soup pot.  Bring the stock to a boil then lower to a lazy simmer and let reduce for about 10 minutes.

Step Three (To Finish)

1. Bring stock back up to a boil and add the clams, stirring once.  Next, add the marinaded fish and shrimp and stir once, gently.  Lower back down to a simmer and let cook for 7-8 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover until ready to serve.

2.  To serve, ladle into soup bowls and top with sautéed fennel, chopped parsley, and a dollop of red pepper sauce.

Red Pepper Sauce (Rouille)


1 c. chopped roasted red peppers

2 c. good bread (like baguette), crust removed and cubed

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

pinch cayenne pepper

1/2 c. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Process in a food processor until smooth,