I have grown up with a love of food and drink that stems from my wonderful parents, Les and Vicky. Practically from birth, my two brothers and I were taken to different restaurants and were always encouraged to try absolutely everything. We were lucky enough to enjoy lots of holidays abroad in various parts of Europe and so all love experimenting with new dishes and styles of food.
We were never shy of seafood or shellfish, and with them both hailing from the East End of London, we often enjoyed ‘high tea’ on a Sunday afternoon – a feast of cockles, winkles, whelks, rollmops, prawns and an array of sandwiches, always, always cut into quarters or as my Mum calls them ‘dolly sandwiches.’
Both my Mum and Dad enjoy cooking and each have their signature dishes, which get brought out for special occasions, birthdays and the like, and on request when one of us has a craving. My Dad is known for his paella whereas my Mum’s seafood stew is her absolute signature – and it is legendary.
The whole family enjoyed this dinner this afternoon for no other reason than it is a Sunday and we were all eating together. It occurred to me that in writing this blog since January 2010, I’ve never shared this wonderful recipe, which has been honed to perfection by my Mum over the years.
Originally found in a 1997 edition of ‘Best Ever Cook’s Collection, Farmhouse Cooking’ which incidentally has some fantastic recipes included, my Mum has experimented with lots of variations. For special occasions, this is made with lobster, but for a standard Sunday lunch, like today, we had langoustines in in place of the luxury crustacean. Monkfish works really well in this stew, being a little meatier than some white fish, it holds together better, but you really could use any fish.
My mum’s addition to make this a little heartier is to serve over pasta. We’ve had linguine, spaghetti and vermicelli before but any would work, today we had pretty tripoline – the telephone wire looking ribbons.
So here is Vicky’s Special Seafood Stew:
· 12 Langoustines or a lobster if you’re feeling flush
· 24 fresh mussels
· 1 large monkfish tail or a cod fillet of about 300g
· 1 tbsp plain flour
· 225g squid
· 90ml olive oil
· 12 large raw prawns
· 450g tomatoes
· 2 large onions
· 4 garlic cloves
· 2 tbsp brandy
· 2 bay leaves
· 1 tbsp paprika
· 1 large red chilli
· 300ml fresh fish stock
· 3 tbsp ground almonds
· 2 tbsp parsley
· Salt & Pepper
· Pasta of your choice
Firstly scrub the mussels, and get rid of any that are open. Chop the monkfish into bite-size chunks..
Liberally season the flour and toss the monkfish and squid in it and then fry on a high heat in a drizzle of olive oil to sear for a minute or so and then set aside.
Fry the prawns and set aside with the squid and monkfish.
Peel the tomatoes (a tip is to put them into boiling water for 30 seconds-1 minute and then move into ice cold water to ease the skins off). Chop roughly. Chop the chilli (if you like a fiery kick leave the seeds in, but remove if you prefer a milder dish).
Dice the onions, crush the garlic and add to the pan (keeping back about 1 clove of crushed garlic). Allow to soften then add the brandy and set alight to flambé. When the flames have died down, add the tomatoes, chilli, bay leaves and paprika and pour over the fish stock. Gently bring to the boil, and then reduce and simmer for five minutes.
Add the mussels and langoustines to the sauce and cover, keeping on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Once the mussels have opened, remove them from the juice, and again get rid of any that haven’t opened.
Cook the pasta you’re using in a separate pot of water.
Make a flavourful paste to intensify the stew by blending the ground almonds, garlic and parsley with a good pinch of salt and pepper and stir into the sauce.
Finally return all of the fish and seafood to the stew pot and cook on a low heat for a further five minutes until hot through.
We always serve this at the table, but pile in the pasta first into a soup bowl and then ladle in the stew. Make sure you have some fresh, preferably crusty bread to dip in and soak up all of the fantastic flavours – you won’t be disappointed. I advise a glass of Rioja or a jug of sangria to go alongside.