Steaming Simple and Sublime

Winter seafood stews redefine comfort food.

What’s to love about freezing weather? The promise of snow. The chance to dig out your heaviest sweater. Hot buttered rum in front of the fireplace. And comfort food. But comfort food is more than just meatloaf and mac and cheese. What could be more soothing than a crock of steaming soup enlivened with the fresh flavors of the sea? Whether it’s creamy like chowder or bisque, or a head-clearing broth, paired with croutons, crusty bread or just crackers, winter’s seafood soups bring a whole different dimension to comfort food. Close your eyes, and breathe in the heady aromas of fish, clams, mussels and more. You can almost hear the waves breaking.


1 pound baby clams, chopped
30 ounces sea clam juice
2 cups medium-diced onion
2 cups medium-diced celery
1 cup medium-diced red bell pepper
2 cups medium-diced potatoes
28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste
parsley and chives for garnish

Heat butter and oil over medium heat. Sauté onion, celery and pepper until soft but not brown. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaf and crushed pepper. Mix well and cook for another two minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add potatoes. Add clam juice and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.   Add tomatoes and cook another 10 minutes. Add clams and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and chives.

Serves 8


For the Soup:

10 cups fish stock
¼ cup good olive oil
1½ cups julienned leeks
1½ cups julienned fennel
3 cups chopped tomatoes (canned)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 generous pinches of saffron
salt and pepper to taste

assorted Chesapeake Bay fish (rockfish, sugar toads, sea trout and clams; add North Carolina shrimp, if you like)

Add saffron to stock and heat over medium high heat. Sauté leeks and fennel in the olive oil for 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook for several more minutes.

Add to the stock and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. Add seafood: 2 or 3 pieces

of each fish, the clams and “imported” shrimp. Cover with lid and simmer until clams open, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Serve with crusty bread and rouille.

For the rouille (pronounced roo -EE):

1 red pepper, roasted and peeled
1 clove garlic
1 slice of sandwich bread
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except oil in a food processor. Purée until smooth and slowly add oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a dollop to each bowl and fill with bouillabaisse.

Serves 8


10 cups fish stock
1½ tablespoons minced garlic
1½ tablespoons minced ginger
2 generous pinches saffron
salt and pepper to taste
1 large carrot, peeled and cut on angle into thin slices
1 large leek, cut on angle into thin slices
1 head celeriac or celery root, cut on angle into thin slices
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound rockfish, cut into 2-ounce chunks
crusty bread
garlic cloves

Heat fish stock, adding garlic, ginger and saffron. Sauté vegetables in olive oil. Add to stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add fish to stock and poach until done, approximately 5 minutes. Slice bread and toast or grill until crispy. Rub each slice with a garlic clove. To serve, ladle soup into each bowl. Add toast and top with fish.

Serves 8


3 pounds mussels in shells
1 cup white wine
1½ cups water
1½ cups chicken stock
1 cup medium-diced onion
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds, crushed
4 tablespoons flour
2 generous pinches saffron
1 tablespoon boiling water
¼ cup heavy cream
½ tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil
1 bunch parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and scrub mussels, discarding beards. Throw away any that are cracked or open. Combine wine and water with mussels and cook over high heat for 5 to 6 minutes or until shells open. Strain mussels through a fine sieve and discard any mussels that stayed closed. Using fingers, pull mussels from shells and discard shells. Activate saffron by mixing it with the tablespoon of boiling water. Heat butter and oil over medium heat and sauté onion and fenugreek seeds for about 5 minutes until soft, not brown. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add flour and cook for 2 more minutes. Combine all liquids, including saffron liquid. Slowly increase heat and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Wash parsley. Blanch in rapidly boiling water for 15 seconds. Refresh in ice water. Squeeze dry with paper towels. Puree, adding water slowly as needed until smooth. Serve in bowls. Add mussels and swirl with parsley purée.

Serves 6

This article originally appeared in our Feb. 2013 issue.

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