Zarzuela Fish Stew

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You know how it is when you have a new boyfriend or girlfriend and you can’t stop talking about them? You’ll find any excuse even just to mention their name. Maybe you’re in the supermarket queue and the lady in front is buying KitKats. Well, if your new beau loves KitKats, how can you not share that amazing fact?

That’s how I feel about my new love, Keith Floyd. Yes, that one. The wine-swilling, bon viveur chef. Admittedly it’s a bit of a one-sided relationship as he now only cooks in the great kitchen in the sky, but that doesn’t make my love for him any less true.

Floydy and I are ever so happy – so much so that we recently went on holiday together. I know, quite early in our relationship for such a big step, but it just felt right, you know? It was actually a bit of a cheeky threesome as Hubbie was there, too. He was actually the one who introduced us to begin with, albeit accidentally, when I found an old copy of Floyd on Spain stuck at the back of a bookcase. A relic from Hubbie’s bachelor days trying to impress a Spanish girlfriend. It was remarkably pristine.

No sooner had I picked him off the shelf than I was falling for the fabulous recipes. It’s a style of cooking that is not too precise or prissy, and is all about the pleasures to be found in preparing and eating wonderful food. Written so you feel as though he’s talking to you, pouring you a glass of wine and urging you on to just have some fun with it. And what could possibly be more fun than taking Floydy back to Spain? So it was that he accompanied us to Andalucia, particularly interesting pages carefully marked with colour-coded mini post-its. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being organised.

Andalucians are renowned for their laidback spirit; and boy did they need it when we hit the local food market. Stall after stall of gloriously fresh fish, meat and fruit. My Spanish is sadly basic/terrible but Hubbie’s is really very good, so all conversation is left to him. Let’s just say that everyone’s patience was pushed to the absolute limit by my insistence on taking Floydy with us and referring to him whilst we made our choices, as the queues of shoppers steadily grew all around us.

Our Floydy food highlights included: sardines with oregano; hake with clams, asparagus and peas; fried squid; clams in tomato and lots of white wine; garlic prawns, veal manchega (nothing to do with manchego cheese); chicken with red peppers; lemon chicken sautéed with garlic; lamb with almonds; revueltos, which takes scrambled eggs to new heights; paella; and – drum roll, please – zarzuela.

Zarzuela is a style of fish stew, and it goes like this:

INGREDIENTS

This is how we did it for three people (me, Hubbie and Floydy) but we used the sauce quantities that Floydy has for six, so that we could mop it all up with chunks of bread. If you’re a larger group, bump up the amount of fish but not necessarily the other ingredients.

150ml olive oil
6 king prawns, shells on
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 large tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped*
1-2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
2-3 tblsp brandy
1 bay leaf
1 tsp paprika
1 dried chilli pepper, seeded and finely chopped
250ml dry white wine
150ml fish stock
A few strands of saffron or one sachet of powdered saffron
3 x fish steaks –we used hake but you could also go for monkfish, cod or halibut
A handful of squid rings
Two big handfuls of clams or mussels (we used clams), well scrubbed; don’t use any open or damaged ones
Chopped fresh chives, to garnish

* Floydy is big on skinning and seeding tomatoes. A bit of a faff but worth it. Score a cross on the base of the tomato. Immerse in boiling water for a minute or so and it should then be very peelable. Cut into quarters and remove all the inner stuff. Now you’re good to go.

METHOD

1. The best thing to use is a large, shallow pan with a lid. It could easily be a frying pan so long as you have a lid that fits.
2. If your prawns are raw, the first thing to do is sauté them in oil until just pink, then set aside.
3. Fry off the onion and garlic for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.
4. When the onion is soft, pour on the brandy and flame it. Like you would a Christmas pudding.
5. Once the flames have burnt out, add in the bay leaf, paprika, chilli pepper, wine, fish stock and saffron. Stir it all together. If you want, you could make to this point ahead of time, and just reheat it before carrying on with the next stages.
6. Add in the fish steaks and squid, with a bit more seasoning. Bring up to bubbling point, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes or so with the lid partially on. Shake the pan occasionally.
7. Now put in the mussels/clams. Put the lid on properly and cook for 10 minutes or so until they open. I love watching through the lid and catching the moment when each one opens up. It might not be very rock’n’roll but it makes me happy all the same. If some of them don’t open, chuck them away.
8. Pop the prawns in and cook gently just to heat them through.
9. Strew the chopped chives on top and you’re done.

We served the zarzuela how we like eating best, by taking the pan to the table and ladling out from there. Some salad leaves accompanied as a vague nod towards our five-a-day and there were chunks of bread for the aforementioned juice mopping. A good, serious white wine went down pretty well too.

Taste of Spain seems to be available only second-hand courtesy of Amazon, although you can also get the DVD of the TV series. I’m afraid I won’t be lending out our no longer quite so pristine copy to anyone. Happily, though, there are other books, other countries who’ve been Floydied. For ours is not just a holiday romance; it’s the real thing. And I’m determined to grab as much Floydy as I can.

Angela Clutton, aka Girl Thursday, is an events and concierge guru, responsible for some of the most luxurious, bespoke and exclusive parties, shows and private soirées in London. Discover more at her website.

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