This is my first try with mussels at home (instead of enjoying them in the safety of my favorite little restaurant). Before I was always intimidated by them, but the lovely Sarah helped me get over my fear. Thanks much my dear! Also I used catfish instead of the other fish available at our local grocery. All they had was fish from China (save for the catfish), and all I can say to that is: I most certainly don't eat fish from China. Word to the wise, ladies and gents. Don't buy fish from China. Take it from the lady that works for an environmental toxicology journal. You don't want me to elaborate, trust me.
Anyhoo, let's get back to the stew, shall we? I got this recipe from epicurious.com. Cioppino is a fish soup/stew of sorts, of Italian origin and from what I read, a great favorite in the US Northwest. I thought this recipe came together beautifully, incredibly fast, and I loved the flavors: fennel gave a wonderful licorice-like background that spiced up this tomato-based dish.
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded and bulb cut lengthwise into 6 wedges
1 medium onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. dried hot red-pepper flakes
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 c. water
1 c. full-bodied red wine such as Zinfandel or Syrah
1 (8-oz.) bottle clam juice
1 lb. skinless fillets of thick white-fleshed fish such as halibut, hake, or pollack, cut into 2-inch chunks (I used catfish and it worked just fine)
1 lb. cultivated mussels
Pulse fennel, onion, and garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then stir in chopped vegetables, bay leaves, thyme, red-pepper flakes, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper.
Cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes.
Add tomatoes with their juice, water, wine, and clam juice and boil, covered, 20 minutes. Stir in seafood and cook, uncovered, until fish is just cooked through and mussels open wide, 4 to 6 minutes (discard any that remain unopened after 6 minutes). Discard bay leaves.