Jess' Grandma and Mum's Catalan Fish Stew (Suquet de Peix)

In this traditional Catalan fish stew (suquet de peix) recipe, fresh seafood and monkfish are served in a sweet, rich and nutty tomato-based sauce. A true taste of the sea.

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Introduction

My grandma was born and raised in Barcelona but moved to the UK in the 1950s, bringing with her a collection of Catalan home cooking recipes that she knew by heart. She loved nothing more than to feed her family and Sundays were more often than not spent packed around her dining room table, where second and third helpings of her paella, escalivada or suquet were not only irresistible but practically obligatory. None of my grandma's recipes were written down, but she and my mum, another exceptional cook, would often make this fish stew together in either one of their kitchens. A unanimous favourite among the family, it is also a true taste of Catalonia and a testament to the kitchen prowess of both of the most important women in my life. Though they may not have been fully conscious of it then, this simple act of making a meal for the family together on a Sunday afternoon would come to mean that my grandma's cooking could live on through my mum and that her adored dishes would continue to feed and delight her loved ones long after her passing. I can't think of a more fitting legacy for her.

Photo credit: Louise Robinson

Serves 6, generously

Ingredients

For the picada:
1 slice of white bread, crusts removed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
10g almonds, blanched
1 small tomato, quartered
1 tsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp cold water
For the seafood:
1 x 900g monkfish tail, bone left in but skin, tendon and gills removed (ask your fishmonger)
600g rope-grown mussels, cleaned and beards removed
½ lemon, sliced
100g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
400g squid, cleaned and cut into rings
12 shell-on Mediterranean or King prawns
For the stew:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small bulb garlic, cloves peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp sweet pimentón
2 large vine tomatoes
500ml good-quality fish stock
a flew glugs of white wine
1 tsp saffron threads
To serve:
6 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and sliced in half
a handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Essential kit

You will need: a food processor and a 35cm cazuela.

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180C fan.

Begin by preparing the picada. Place a small frying pan on a medium-high heat and add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic cloves and slice of crustless white bread and fry for around 2 minutes on each side until golden. Set aside.

Once your oven is at temperature, spread the almonds out on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the oven to roast until golden, around 7 minutes.

In the small bowl of a food processor, add the fried slice of bread along with the oil and garlic from the pan, the roasted almonds, tomato quarters, flat leaf parsley and a tablespoon of cold water. Blitz to form a paste. Set aside.

Next you need to prepare the seafood. Slice the monkfish tail into 2-3cm thick horizontal slices, leaving the bone in. Set aside.

To prepare the mussels, give each one a quick rap with a knife, discarding any which do not close when you do this, or any that are broken or cracked. Place the remaining mussels in a large saucepan on a medium heat with 300ml water and the lemon slices. Place the lid on the saucepan and bring to the boil, give the pan a few shakes and once the mussels have opened (around 2 to 3 minutes) take off the heat and set aside in the pan, conserving the cooking liquid.

Heat the 4 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan on a high heat. Place the seasoned flour in a large shallow bowl. Working in batches, dry the monkfish slices on kitchen paper, coat in the flour, shake off the excess and then fry for around 1 minute on each side until golden but not cooked through. You may need to add more oil to the pan as you go. Set aside.

Using the same pan, topping up the oil if necessary, repeat the flouring process with the squid rings and cook again for one or two minutes until they are turning gold, but barely cooked. Set aside.

Now make the sofrito (base of the stew). Slice the tomatoes in half and coarsely grate each half until you reach the skin. Discard the skin and set the grated tomato flesh aside.

Place a 35cm cazuela on a low-medium heat and add the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Once warm, add the chopped onion and fry gently for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion is soft and melting but not brown. Add the garlic and continue to fry for another two minutes. Now add the sweet pimentón and grated tomato and continue to fry gently for another five minutes until the tomato and onion mix has come together as a sauce. Using a potato masher, gently mash the mix to create a smoother sauce.

Add the fish stock to the cazuela, along with 100mls of the strained, reserved mussel cooking liquid, a few good glugs of white wine and the saffron. Turn the heat up to medium – high and simmer for around 10 minutes, until the quantity of liquid has reduced by a third.

Once the sauce has reduced down sufficiently, add the picada a tablespoon at a time, stirring as you go until there is an even distribution of picada throughout the sauce and it looks thick and nutty.

Add the monkfish pieces and squid to the sauce, spacing them out evenly in the cazuela. Cook for two minutes and then add in the prawns. Cook for a further two or three minutes until the prawns have turned pink and then dot the mussels around the pan. Cover the cazuela with kitchen foil and leave on a very low heat for 2 minutes to warm the mussels through.

To serve, nestle the hard-boiled eggs in around the fish and top with the chopped parsley.

Delicious served with steamed new potatoes, garden peas and a loaf of sourdough bread for mopping up the sumptuous sauce.

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