Hearty Carribean Seafood Stew
I’ve always been enticed by the smells of the tropics. Living many years in a cold weather climate, I crave the hot, sticky summers at my grandparent’s home in Honduras. The almost cold, syrupy coca-cola imports and shade from the Limón trees were just about the only things to keep you from melting. Stepping off the plane, I remember being immediately assaulted by three distinct smells, etched in my brain forever: Citrus so sweet and boldly fragrant, it could be worn as perfume. It stood up to an unordinary, perpetual burning smell reminiscent of a fireplace or smoke from a BBQ pit. And of course, the salty sea breeze from the Caribbean – it wove everything together and seemed to stick around everywhere, like the moisture from the humidity glazing your skin. And it made me hungry.
It’s an inspired memory. One of my heritage, my family, my childhood and of course, food. Utilizing the local fruits of the sea and land, a coconut seafood stew was an easy go-to meal, cooked in a large cast iron pot that yielded enough food to feed all of our friends and family. It kept us sitting at the table for hours. In a traditional version of the stew, coconut milk is the only liquid used to create a broth. Though rich and delicious, it’s not exactly healthy. In my version, I still incorporate coconut milk, but use less of it and add a seafood stock to thin it down. The result is a lovely combination of bold flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean and a delicate bouillabaisse (French seafood stew). This is perfect to serve over rice. Use this recipe for your next party. It will be a centerpiece.
Ingredients and Method (Serves 12)
For The Stock
- Shells from 2-3 lbs of shrimp
- 3 Kafir lime leaves
- 2 Ginger leave (if available)
- ½ lb. ginger root, thinly sliced
- stems from 2 bunches of cilantro
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 Tb. Red or white vinegar
- 8 C water
Combine ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer for about 2 hours. Strain stock into a fresh pot.
For The Soup
- 3 lbs large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 5 lbs variety of firm fish such as mahi mahi, cut in 1″ cubes
- 3T finely chopped or grated ginger
- 7 cloves minced garlic
- 1 Serrano pepper or any hot pepper, minced
- 5T peanut oil (use any neutral oil if you cannot find peanut oil)
- 1T cayenne pepper
- 1T salt
- 1/2t black pepper
- 7C seafood or fish stock
- 3 T butter
- 3 T flour
- 3 cans coconut milk
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 lb seeded, coarsely chopped plum tomatoes
- 1 can, hearts of palm, sliced
- 1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
Combine all seafood, ginger, garlic, Serrano pepper, 3T peanut oil, cayenne, salt and pepper. Let sit for at least two hours but preferably overnight.
In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour, whisking constantly until foamy and the color is light brown, about 4 minutes. Add coconut milk, turn heat to high and whisk until slightly thickened. Add stock and bring to simmer. Lower the heat and cover.
In a large heavy pan (such as cast iron) on medium-high heat, heat 1T of oil. Add red onions with a pinch of salt, stirring until soft. Add half of tomatoes and cook soft. Stir in marinated seafood. Cook just until shrimp being to turn pink. Transfer all contents into the soup pot and stir on low heat until seafood is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
To serve, ladle stew over rice. Top with hearts of palm/tomato mixture and fresh cilantro leaves.