A holiday always leaves a cook feeling inspired and a rich squid stew in a restaurant in L’Escala set my mind racing about making my own version, with added pork. Before that experiment though, it was time to get some practice in the ways of a traditional Catalan stew.
The beginning is a sofrito – tomato sauce cooked long and slow to develop character and sweetness. I cheated on this and used a jar I had from Brindisa because, well, I had it. In this I simmered some squid pieces until tender. For my white fish, I scored a bargain on some monkfish cheeks at Moxon’s in East Dulwich. I asked for the cheapest firm white fish in the shop and that’s what he produced – big meaty chunks at a fraction of the price of the tail (I got 300g for a few quid). On the shellfish front, I dropped in a giant prawn per person and then clack, clack, clack as I stirred in some fiercely barnacled mussels.
At the end the stew is thickened with a picada – a mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic and toasted ground almonds. Such a magical combination. The garlic remains punchy yet not raw and the ground nuts enrich the broth, the breadcrumbs swell and thicken. A final squeeze of lemon at the table and a torn hunk of bread for scooping and it’s time to slurp, shell and mop. One of the most complex and delicious dishes I’ve eaten in a very long time.
Catalan style fish stew
300g firm white fish (I used monkfish cheeks), cut into bite size chunks
200g mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1 giant prawn per person
250g squid, slices into rings and tentacles roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 large onion, sliced
A handful flatleaf parsley, chopped
1 315g jar of sofrito or you can make your own
1 litre fish or vegetable stock
Lemon wedges, to serve
Bread, to serve
For the picada
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 slice dry white bread, made into crumbs
50g almonds, lightly toasted
Begin by sweating your onion in some groundnut or vegetable oil in a heavy based large pan. Cook it on a low heat for 20 minutes at least until the onions are very soft. Add your jar of sofrito plus the stock, paprika and squid and bring to a gentle simmer. Put a lid on and let cook gently for about an hour.
For the picada, pound all the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar until as smooth as possible.
Stir in a couple of tablespoons of the picada just before you add the remaining fish for the final few minutes of cooking. My prawns were very large so I added those for 2 minutes, plus the white fish and mussels for another 3 minutes. Garnish with the parsley and serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.