Zarzuela de Mariscos is this insane, over-the-top amazing shellfish stew from the Catalan coastal region of Spain. Have you ever had it? Oh. My. God! I realize full well how hyperbolic it sounds to say so, but I think it may well be the best seafood stew on planet earth. I’m quite serious. It pushes all the right comfort and joy buttons.
I’m going to make a case for this bold claim. You don’t have to agree with me, but hear me out before you form an opinion. And more importantly, for the love of humanity and all that is decent and good in the world, make this and try it!
Why Zarzuela de Mariscos May Be the Best Seafood Stew on Earth
Zarzuela de Mariscos quite obviously bears a family resemblance to France’s bouillabaisse (which, incidentally, is utterly sublime and amazing, and for which I have a fine recipe here). This shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. The Catalan coast of Spain borders the Mediterranean coast of France. Barcelona is a mere 500 km (310 miles) from Marseilles. They’re practically neighbors. And they’ve all been making fisherman’s stews out of fish that comes from the same sea for, I don’t know, probably several millennia. Duh.
But there are important differences. I think if bouillabaisse as clean and refined, with strong notes of saffron, anise, and citrus. Zarzuela de Mariscos isn’t like that. First, it’s more rustic. It’s got ground almonds in it, which gives the broth a coarse, grainy texture. All of that almond also makes it fattier and heartier. I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing. Quite to the contrary. It’s f-ing amazing.
Second, the flavors are a bit bolder. Instead of fennel and orange, you’ve got cured pork and tomatoes, and peppers. I’ve seen versions that use serious, stick-to-your-ribs chorizo sausage. Other versions, including the one I’ve made, use Prosciutto ham.
As for the seafood? The dish is sometimes referred to more generically as Zarzuela de Pescado (fish). But Zarzuela de Mariscos (shellfish or seafood) is a more apt name for the versions I’m thinking about here. Mussels, clams, shrimp. That’s all I used. Some versions add calamari, and some sort of fish also isn’t unheard of. But the shellfish is the foundation.
And how good is it? Ugh. I don’t even know how to communicate exactly how amazing this stuff is. I don’t simply want to eat it. I want to bathe in a giant vat of it. If you were to dab a bit of the broth behind each of your ears you’d have to beat off prospective suitors with a stick because you’d be at least 20% sexier than you usually are. It’s that good.
About This Zarzuela de Mariscos Recipe
As I noted, the flavor of this stew is augmented with cured pork of some kind. I used Prosciutto, but chorizo or some other spicy pork sausage would be even bolder. A lot of versions I encountered in my research also include scallops. I would have included them myself, but there weren’t any fresh ones available at this time in my little corner of the world.
I think, much like bouillabaisse (understood as a rustic fisherman’s stew and not haute cuisine), this dish is pretty impromptu and variable. You make it with whatever you’ve got available. The “rules” are pretty loose here.
I will say this though. Something magic happens when the ground almond goes into the broth. This is classic Mediterranean diet fare. High fat of the polyunsaturated variety–from olive oil, and omega-3 rich almonds, and omega-3 rich shellfish–and relatively high fiber, and reasonably low carb. It’s certainly paleo friendly, and gluten free, and dairy free. This is healthy stuff. And did I mention that it’s stupid delicious? Win-win. No?
Finally, I should note that in Spain it’s common to serve this dish as a tapa. In that case, this recipe for four generous main-course servings could easily provide eight tapa servings, simply by sharing each serving between two people. I think it’d go really well with this tapa recipe and this one.
Make this. Please. I can’t bear the thought that more people aren’t enjoying this stuff. If you make it, post a picture to Instagram and tag it #slowburningpassion. And hey, if you’d be so kind, follow me on Facebook already!
- 1 pound Medium Shrimp with Shells
- 1 Pound Manila Clams
- 1 Pound Mussels
- ½ Cup Almonds
- ½ Cup Dry White Wine
- Large pinch of Saffron
- 4 Ounces Prosciutto, diced
- ¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 4 Cups Fish Stock (I made shrimp stock from saved shells, clam juice would work as well)
- 3 Bay Leaves
- 1 Large Onion, diced
- ½ Teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 Red Bell Pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
- 5 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoons Fresh Rosemary, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme leaves
- 1 Cup of canned tomatoes (or by all means use peeled and diced fresh tomatoes if they’re in season)
- 1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
- ½ Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Lemon
- ¼ Chopped Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley
- A Few Teaspoons of Spanish Smoked Paprika
- Peel the shrimp, reserving the shells for stock. Also rinse the clams in colld water and scrub and de-beard the mussels. Set aside in the refrigerator.
- Blend the almonds in a blender or food processor into a fine meal. Don’t go too crazy or the flour will separate and get oily. Set aside.
- Add the saffron to the white wine to allow it to bloom.
- Heat the fish stock (or bottled clam juice) to a simmer and add the shrimp shells and bay leaves. Leave stock on a very low simmer, covered, as you prepare the rest of the dish.
- In a very skillet or heavy bottomed stock pot, fry the prosciutto over medium high heat to render some of the fat. Remove the ham and set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the olive oil, onions, peppers, and salt. Saute until the vegetables start to become tender (about 8 minutes).
- Add the garlic and herbs. Continue to saute until the garlic is cooked.
- Deglaze the pan with the wine a few minutes, then add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, the black pepper. Pour in most of the stock, making sure there is room in the pan for the shellfish. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add the shrimp next, and stir in the almond meal.
- Add the mussels and clams. Continue to simmer until the shrimp are pink and cooked and the mussels and clams open up. It’ll only take a few minutes.
- Remove from heat and squeeze in the juice of the lemon.
- Plate in shallow bowls and garnish with parsley and a dusting of paprika.