If Upon a Winter's Night: A Cozy Seafood Supper

Shrimp, Mussels, and Clams in a Buttery Fennel and Pernod Broth

 It seems as if I have been waiting for El Nino for an endlessly long time, so long, in fact, that I've stopped thinking of El Nino as a weather system, and instead, have taken to personification. No longer a thing, in my mind, El Nino has become male, albeit, highly unpredictable and very reminiscent of the dark-eyed brooding boys who left me starry-eyed and disappointed during my adolescence.

It doesn't help matters that my anticipation--and expectations--have been fueled by careless weather forecasters, along with the hum of city trucks and bustling workmen in preparation for what, thus far, has turned out to be a whole lot of nothing.

That said, I couldn't help myself from getting swept up by the romanticism of the first real rainy weather in months. While I dreamed of torrential downpours and flickering lights that would necessitate dining by candlelight, I settled for a light, but steady rain and an afternoon in the kitchen, sorting through a sack of seafood purchased from my local fishmonger.

Though Cioppino is a California mainstay and the French Bouillabaisse is a personal favorite, I was pining for a rich herbal broth laced with thyme and fennel, garlic and onions barely caramelized, and generous additions of both Pernod and dry vermouth. And while I wasn't lucky enough to be swept up into the arms of the mysterious and elusive El Nino, I did happen upon a stash of Mr. B's famous crab stock while rummaging through the freezer. Of course, it proved an ample dose of love--for both the assorted shellfish and myself and while a light rain tapped steadily against the window, Mr. B and I greedily tucked into big bowls of seafood stew, mopping up the juices with thick chunks of sourdough bread.

Mel's Seafood Stew

1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, cored, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 cups of robust fish stock--or, if you have it, crab or shrimp stock
1 pound each of shrimp, clams, and small black mussels
5 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup of dry vermouth
Pernod, to taste
3 to 4 fennel fronds
2 springs of fresh lemon thyme
1/2 bunch of fresh flat leafed parsley, finely chopped

1. In a heavy stew pot, melt the butter and heat until just beginning to brown.
2. Add the onion, fennel, and garlic and cook until slightly golden brown and lightly caramelized.
3. Add the dry vermouth and cook until evaporated; add the fish stock and bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer.
4. Once the stock is reduced by half, bring back to a boil and add the shrimp then top with the clams and mussels, drizzle with Pernod and top with the fennel fronds and thyme sprigs; cover with a tight fitting lid and steam for 5-7 minutes until the shrimp are cooked through and the clams and mussel shells open.
5. Remove lid and drizzle with the heavy whipping cream; gently stir.
6. Turn off heat and cover pot; let sit for 2 minutes.
7. Arrange the shellfish in large, deep bowls ladle in the broth; top with minced parsley.
8. Serve with thick slices of lightly toasted sourdough bread and a generous glass of chilled Pinot Grigio.
9. Enjoy!


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