The French call it Bouillabaisse, the Italians call it Cacciucco and here in New Jersey, it’s simply All-American seafood stew. Why All-American? Because local is best, especially when it comes to seafood. That means little neck clams from Maine, mussels from Connecticut. Cod, squid and shrimp from the Atlantic Ocean somewhere off the coast of our great Garden State. It may not be as glamorous as the coast of France, but it’s just as fresh and robust with the same briny flavors. Don’t forget a loaf of crusty bread for dunking.
Secret ingredient: It just wouldn’t be seafood stew without clam broth, which is released when the clam is steamed and the shell pops open. This gift from Mother Nature is what turns the base of this stew into flavors that can’t be copied or reproduced without the addition of this special ingredient.
Preparing shellfish: Clams and mussels are unique because they’re alive right up until they’re cooked. The first thing you need to do is inspect for chipped or opened shells which means they’re not longer alive and need to be tossed. Clams and mussels also live in the sand, so just before cooking it’s important to soak them in fresh (tap) water for about 20 minutes. This allows them to breath and release any grit and sand that’s inside their shells. The same goes for the outer shell. Lightly scrubbing with a brush will take any outer soot off. Finally, mussels have a weird tangle that looks like seaweed called the “beard” coming out of the shell. Give that beard a little yank to remove it.
Switching seafood: The clam broth is the backbone of this stew but beyond that you can mix and match your seafood tailoring the stew to your likes and what’s available. With all good recipes, the fresher the ingredients, the brighter the flavors.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 oz. can tomato paste
- ½ pound squid, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup good quality white wine
- 14 oz can diced tomatoes
- 50 littleneck clams
- Handful fresh basil, roughly torn
- ½ pound large shrimp
- 1 pound Atlantic Cod (or any firm white fish), cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 pounds mussels
- Crusty bread for dunking
- Place clams and mussels in a bowl filled with water and soak for 20 minutes so they can expel their sand. While their soaking lightly brush the outer shells to remove any extra grit. Debeard the mussels by giving the beard a yank.
- In a large stockpot over low heat, add oil and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add squid and cook, stirring occasionally until opaque, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, turn up the heat and cook until the tomato paste is thoroughly combined with the squid and a little thicker in texture and darker in color, about 5 minutes. Add wine and continue cooking until most of the wine has evaporated (this will give the stew great flavor), about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice along with the clams. Cover the pot and cook about 10 minutes until the clams have opened (toss any unopened clams).
- At this point remove the clams from the shells and discard the shells. Add the basil, shrimp, cod and mussels. Cover the pot and cook 10 more minutes until the mussels have opened (toss any unopened mussels). Ladle into big bowls and serve with crusty bread.