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Healthy Cooking: Find magic in a simple seafood stew

Fresh is best, but frozen seafood also shines in this delicious weeknight stew. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES
Fresh is best, but frozen seafood also shines in this delicious weeknight stew. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES

What kind of recipe do you want? Fast? Fresh? Fancy? Whipped up from the ice-covered recesses of your freezer?

Friends, whatever magic you need to make, look no further than this seafood stew. Loosely based on cioppino, a San Francisco specialty that's based on an Italian soup, this dish is hearty, healthy and versatile. You can carefully curate the ingredients for a special occasion, or throw it together before a weeknight baseball practice. Make it once, and you'll realize that the possibilities, and varieties, are infinite.

Start by procuring a pound and a half of seafood. My family enjoys a thrifty trio of shrimp, bay scallops and cod; feel free to experiment with clams, salmon or any other sea-yummies that your people enjoy. The fresher the fish, the tastier the stew, so if you have access to just-caught fish, great. If frozen items are the best you can do, that’s great, too. I’m particularly fond of frozen shrimp, which are inexpensive, full of lean protein, and easy to keep on hand. In all of my test recipes, the only fish that floundered was thawed tilapia; it tasted just dandy but didn’t hold its shape while simmering.

While you’re grabbing the fish, pick up a little jar of clam juice (often found in the same aisle as canned tuna). It costs less than a latte and adds a wallop of umami flavor to the stew. You only need a splash for this recipe; use the remainder in linguine with clam sauce, clam chowder or a clam dip. Clam juice is also the not-so-secret ingredient in bloody mary cocktails. If you’re still not convinced you need it, skip the clam juice all together and add a bit of brine from a jar of capers to get the salty job done.

Simmer the fish in a sauce made from dry white wine and canned whole tomatoes. I find it deeply satisfying to break up the tomatoes by squeezing them until they pop. If you’d rather keep your hands clean, use your cutting shears to chop up the tomatoes. Let the tomatoes simmer 10 minutes or more before adding the fish, and you will be rewarded with a thicker, velvety stew. Sometimes you don’t have any minutes to spare, and that’s OK. If you skip the simmer, your stew will simply be more brothy. Serve it with a hunk of bread and act like that’s part of the plan.

Because the recipe is so accommodating, you can personalize it with your favorite flavors. Add a crumbled slice of turkey bacon. Throw in some chopped potato. And fresh spinach. More spice. Less spice. Serve the whole thing over rice! As a more-is-more person, I’ve done all of these. But I have to say, my favorite version is the recipe you see here. It’s a simple recipe, made without pretense or pressure. Who doesn’t need a little magic like that?

Weeknight Cioppino (Seafood Stew)

Weeknight Cioppino (Seafood Stew)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons clam juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound raw shellfish such as shrimp, scallops or clams
  • 1/2 pound sturdy fish fillets, such as cod, halibut or salmon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • Place the tomatoes and juices in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to squeeze and break up the tomatoes. Set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the onion until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme and red chile flakes and cook 1 minute more. Add the wine and cook until nearly evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, clam juice and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes or until the sauce reduces and thickens. Add the shellfish and fish. Cover and simmer until the fish and shellfish are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove bay leaves and stir in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve hot with crusty bread. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, made with 1/2 pound shrimp, 1/2 pound bay scallops and 1/2 pound cod: 256 calories (percent of calories from fat, 13), 33 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams fat (trace saturated fat), 129 milligrams cholesterol, 571 milligrams sodium.

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