There are countless variations on bourride, a traditional Mediterranean seafood soup/stew. This one, prepared by our friend Mellen and served over Israeli couscous, was the best thing we ate by far on a weekend trip to Washington, DC. Recipe below.
When I started Blue Kitchen way back in the fall of aught-six, I had great plans for having occasional guest cooks do posts here. So far, I’ve failed miserably. Aside from Marion [a co-conspirator here, really, not a guest], I’ve only had one guest cook, the lovely Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen, who made her delicious Brazilian Rice and Beans. When I smelled this wonderfully fragrant stew percolating in Mellen’s kitchen, I knew it was high time I made good on my plans.
Our friends Mellen and Steve live in a beautiful 1800s house in the historic, convenient and cosmopolitan DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC. The neighborhood is home to foreign embassies, ethnic restaurants, art galleries and shops—and is the center of DC’s vibrant nightlife. So when they invited us to come visit them for a long weekend, it took very little arm twisting to get us there. Mellen and Steve—and Mellen’s kids Madeleine and Taylor—were gracious hosts. Madeleine even gave up her room for us. The whole weekend, conversation flowed like wine. So did the wine, often on their rooftop deck.
In today’s second post, I’ll talk about some of the DC stuff we did on our visit, with a focus on food. But now I’m going to concentrate on this delicious seafood stew/soup. A bourride [boo-REED] is a Mediterranean fish soup, something like a bouillabaisse but with a consistency more like stew. There are probably as many variations on it as there are cooks who make it, and options vary wildly, from suspiciously quick and simple to complex and slow-cooking. Many use thick slices of toasted bread as a base, others call for potatoes. Mellen uses large, pearly Israeli couscous. One common thread among all recipes, though, is making the most of plentiful fresh seafood in the region.
So now, I’ll turn the kitchen over to Mellen and let her tell you about the dish that topped everything else we ate in DC last weekend:
This is a concept, not a recipe. There are endless variations, and you should feel free to substitute whatever you see fit. This is my favorite version, after trying many variations over years of sampling similar stews all over the south of France and Italy. The key to this dish is to keep tasting it as the flavors build until it seems just perfect to you.
Mellen’s Seafood Bourride
1/2 pound small shrimp
1 cup finely chopped white onion
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
kernels from one ear of white corn
1/4 cup of good olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted sweet butter [1/2 stick]
1 fillet of Chilean sea bass, skin removed and cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 pound bay scallops
1 calamari steak [about 1/2 pound], sliced into strips, or 1/2 pound of calamari rings
4 cups seafood broth [see Kitchen Notes for alternatives]
2 Kraft chicken bouillon cubes
750 ml [one bottle] Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
3 cups panna cucina [a thick Italian cream—see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 fistful each, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fresh oregano, shredded sweet basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 pound cherrystone clams
2 tablespoons [or more] saffron threads
Grey sea salt and pepper
16 ounces Israeli couscous
Peel the shrimp and set aside. Put the peels in a small pot, cover with water and cook for 10 minutes on low heat. Set aside.
In a large skillet, sauté the onion, garlic, celery, red bell pepper and corn kernels in the olive oil over low heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the sautéed vegetables to a large pot. Add the butter, Chilean sea bass, calamari and scallops to the pot and cook over gentle heat for 5 minutes. Take the water with shrimp peels off the stove and drain shrimp broth into the pot. Add the seafood broth and bouillon cubes and wine. Turn up the heat a bit and simmer for about 10 minutes to let the alcohol cook off. Add the panna cucina, turn heat down low and stir to incorporate. Add the red pepper flakes, lemon zest and all the herbs and spices, except the saffron, and let sit on the stove for at least 30 minutes on very low heat, stirring and tasting every few minutes.
Ten minutes before serving, add the shrimp and cherrystone clams. Meanwhile, cook the Israeli couscous until tender and drain (if you want extra flavor, which you probably don’t need with this dish, you can cook it in bouillon). Add the saffron to the stew. When the clams are all open, it’s ready to serve.
Serve the stew over the couscous. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves.
Seafood broth. I sometimes make my own, but you can also buy prepared broth. The fish broth brand I use is Kitchen Basics. I think Wolfgang Puck also makes some. You can substitute water and bouillon cubes [chicken or seafood or even vegetable, I suppose].
Panna cucina. This Italian cream has the consistency of mascarpone or whipped cream cheese. You can substitute crème fraîche or heavy or whipping cream, but if you do, cut back a bit on the amount of broth you put in. The stew should have a medium to heavy soup consistency.
Israeli couscous. This is a larger version of the typical tiny couscous semolina, about the size of a cooked grain of barley. If you can’t find it, you can substitute any sturdy rice [like Arborio] or even barley grains or a pasta like linguine. Don’t use regular couscous—it will be too mealy in this dish.
Okay, it’s Terry again, with one more thank you to our friends. And to Mellen, for this amazing recipe. I have to tell you, writing this post has been the most pleasant torture—reading the recipe and staring at the photo, I can absolutely taste and smell this heavenly bourride. One last word about Mellen: Besides being a passionate cook, she runs Grammarians, Inc., providing writing, editing, proofreading and marketing communications services to Fortune 500 companies and government organizations.