This stew, cioppino, is one of those rare dishes that makes seafood hearty (gumbo and bisque are a few others that come to mind). The addition of cous cous makes it a complete meal, and adds a fantastic grainy texture. The first time I ever had this was at Cafe e Cucina in Melbourne. It was so unbelievably good I immediately wanted to make it at home. I tracked down a recipe, adapted it, and can honestly say this was every bit as good. Try and get hold of the larger grained pearl cous cous, or do what I do, and use a mixture of the larger and the more common finer one, it makes for a great texture. Of course you could use any seafood you like here – I have kept it simple with just prawns, mussels and fish. Try adding anything else that’s in season and recommended by your fishmonger, such as clams. Naturally, making your own fish stock will add an amazing depth of flavour here, but if you can’t be bothered, buy some home made stock from a market or deli. Don’t use commercial stock. (To make fish stock: boil one salmon head and bones, prawn shells from the prawns you are using in this recipe, an onion, tomato, leek, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns and teaspoon of salt in a large pot of water for about 2 hours, drain and reserve liquid. Freeze any unused stock for the next time you make this, which you will).
1 white onion, diced
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 anchovy fillets
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 400 g can organic chopped tomatoes
1 cup of white wine
About 600 ml fish stock (use vegie stock if you have none)
1 bay leaf
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
1/2 kilo mussels, scrubbed, debearded
300 grams peeled raw prawns
500 grams firm white fish fillets, skinless and boneless, and diced into bite sized cubes (eg rockling, blue eye, barramundi, perch – check with your fishmonger if you’re not sure, and get them to skin and bone any fillets that need it)
1/2 cup cous cous
Heat the oil in a large heavy based pan, and add the onions. Saute until quite soft. Add the chopped anchovies, fennel, thyme, garlic, celery, bay leaf, and mix. Add the chilli flakes and paprika. Saute until the vegetables are soft, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. If it starts to stick, add a dash of water.
Add the white wine and cook for a minute until the wine is reduced. Add the tomatoes, stock, tomato paste and oregano flakes. Stir.
Bring to the boil, reduce heat to the lowest heat possible and simmer, uncovered, for one hour, checking frequently and stirring.
Add the seafood and cous cous, cover, and cook for 10 minutes over a low to medium heat. Discard any unopened mussels.
This is absolutely perfect served with garlicky crostini (slice stale baguette into thin rounds, brush with olive oil, place in a warm oven until crunchy, and rub with halved garlic cloves while warm).