Catalonia is one of the most beautiful regions of Spain. The deep blue Mediterranean, home to some of the most delicious seafood in the world, laps the rugged coastlines of Girona and Barcelona. One of the most beloved way to taste these treasures of the sea is in Suquet De Peix (Catalan Fish Stew).
This stew was one of the first dishes we learned at the Catacurian cooking school. It’s not only delicious, but its deep, rich flavor relies on one of the cornerstones of Catalan cuisine: picada. Traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, picada is a mixture of roasted nuts, garlic, fried bread, cookies and garlic. It’s used to enhance the flavor and color of a dish, while providing a thick, velvety texture.
Nowadays, it’s more common to grind the picada in a food processor. In addition to the ingredients above, you may find picada recipes that include any range of flavorful ingredients, including brandy, chicken or rabbit livers, saffron, parsley, roasted tomatoes, chocolate, sweet dried peppers and more.
Like other Mediterranean fish stews, Suquet De Peix is a humble dish at heart. All you need to make it are potatoes, tomatoes and fish. It’s the picada, however, that sets it apart. If you already love other fish stews, such as the French Bouillabaisse or Italian Cioppino, you’ll adore Suquet De Peix. It marries those comforting, familiar flavors with Spanish ingredients, including sweet pimenton and saffron.
In addition to mastering the picada, it’s essential to use the freshest ingredients you can find. Any kind of fish and seafood will do, so don’t be afraid to mix in your favorites.
Sunday is my favorite day to experiment in the kitchen, and it was on a recent Sunday afternoon that I cooked up this Catalan Fish Stew for dinner. I’d planned ahead, of course, and picked up a diverse selection of seafood from Whole Foods: the freshwater white fish paiche, along with cod, mussels, clams and shrimp. In Catalonia, you’re likely to see monkfish and langoustines in your Suquet De Peix.
The picada for fish dishes is simple, with only five ingredients: hazelnuts, almonds, fried bread, garlic and a dry red Nyora pepper. Nyora peppers is a fat, round chile in the bell pepper family. It’s mild, clocking in at under 1,000 Scoville units. You can easily purchase Nyora peppers from La Tienda, but if you’re lazy like me, go ahead and substitute a dried ancho chile or, even easier, about a ½ teaspoon of dried ancho chile powder. Anchos have the same rich flavor, but are a touch spicier than nyoras, with a Scoville rating between 1,000-2,000 units. But, a little heat never hurt anyone.
After the nuts are toasted, the bread and garlic are fried in olive oil. Then the nuts, bread, garlic and pepper are pounded together in a mortar or turned into a thick paste in the food processor. To get a thick, but relatively smooth texture in my picada, I added about a tablespoon of olive oil as it processed.
The incredible flavors of Catalan Fish Stew are a result of the careful layering and caramelization of flavors. Garlic and tomatoes are cooked in olive oil until caramelized (to become sofregit), while potatoes cook in olive oil in a smaller frying pan. When the potatoes are soft, they’re added to the tomato sofreigit along with smoky pimenton. Next comes white wine, saffron and the earthy picada. Finally, the fish is layered in, covered with a generous amount of fish stock and cooked just until the seafood is tender.
The picada enriches and thickens the flavorful tomato and paprika-laced sauce. All you need to round out the meal is some charred bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Or maybe some Pan Con Tomate.
- ¼ cup hazelnuts
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 slices baguette or white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 dried nyora or ancho chile, or ½ teaspoon dried ancho chile powder
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 3 large potatoes, chipped into irregular pieces
- 3 large tomatoes, grated with a box grater, skins discarded
- 2 teaspoons sweet pimenton (Spanish paprika)
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 pieces of any white fish (paiche, cod, tilapia, monkfish, hake)
- ¼ pound shrimp or 2-4 lobster tails
- 12 clams
- 12 mussels
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon saffron, crushed
- 2-4 cups fish stock, heated
- To make the picada: heat a dry saucepan over medium-low heat and toast the hazelnuts and almonds until fragrant and golden. Remove from pan into the bowl of a food processor or mortar. Add olive oil to the skillet and saute garlic and bread cubes until golden. Add to the food processor bowl or mortar. Add dried chile or chile powder and process until a thick, relatively smooth paste forms. Add additional olive oil if needed. Set aside.
- For stew: heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Saute garlic and parsley. When it's golden, add the tomatoes, now called a "sofregit." Cook untl the sofregit is reduced and caramelized. In an adjacent pan, fry the potatoes over medium heat in olive oil, until nearly cooked through. Add them to the pan with the sofregit.
- Stir for several minutes and then add the pimenton. Stir to cook. Add the white wine and cook, stirring constantly, until most of hte alcohol is gone.
- Add the reserved picada, stirring gently to mix in.
- Season the fish and seafood with salt and pepper and lay all of the seafood on top of the potato-tomato mixture. Cover everything with the heated fish stock and add the saffron.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook until the fish is done and the mussels and claims have opened.
- Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately with crusty bread.
Suquet De Peix may come from humble origins, but it’s no peasant dish. This would make an impressive entrée at your next dinner party or romantic evening in. If you give it a try, be sure to let me know how it turns out and hashtag your photos with #lexibites.