1 Onionfinely diced
5 cloves Garlicchopped
2 small red chilliesfinely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 bunch Parsleyfinely chopped
2 cans whole peeled410 g (15 oz) each
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1.5 cups Fish Stock
1 small tin baby clams
30 black or Eden Mussels
400 grams perch fillet
250 grams squid tubescleaned
550 grams whole green king prawns
400 grams scallops
extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup almonds
1/3 cup hazelnuts
sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper
The first time I had Zarzuela was a few years back. A gang of us went to a Spanish restaurant for a going away dinner for a few of the group that were off to Europe indefinitely. It was a brilliant night with beautiful food, great friends, kitschy flamenco music, lots of sangria and many embarrassing stories from the past. The details are a little sketchy but a couple of things I remember particularly well are; the Restaurant was about the size of a small sailboat with less than 7 tables in all. Despite this it was a very comfortable place, the seating was on wooden benches that resembled church pews and scattered over them were randomly coloured embroidered cushions. The walls were a very warm wood and spread over them were many interesting, often brightly coloured paintings in no particular theme. It all made the place incredibly social and comfortable despite its size.
I also remember the food, now usually with that much frivolity and sangria I would be forgiven, even as a Chef, for not remembering the food but I remember every detail about the food that night. We ordered various shared Tapas and were thoroughly impressed with each dish. The Champinones al Ajillo (garlic mushrooms) were the texture of expensive meat, the Mejillomes Rellenos (stuffed mussels) looked and smelled as though they had crept from the net to the plate, they were that fresh. The Albondigas (Spanish veal meatballs) were melt in your mouth tender, and the Pollo al Ajillo (garlic chicken) and Tortilla Espanola were both deliciously rustic. But the dish I was most excited about was one we didn’t even order. As we sat eating and chatting, Miguel who had been sitting at a table for one next to us had his main course arrive. Miguel was actually from Spain and was doing some traveling and had come to get some food to remind him of home. He said “Dees iz de only place seence I left Spain dat do Tharthuela proper.” It was a seriously impressive looking dish that sat before him, seafood teeming from the steaming broth as though it were a fisherman’s net. As impressive as it looked though it was the smell that got me to take notice. It was a very different type of smell than you’d expect from most tomato based seafood dishes. As I sat asking Miguel all sorts of questions about the dish he shouted out to the kitchen, “Juan you have any Tharthuela sauce left for dees fine gentleman?” I embarrassingly mumbled “No no that’s alright.” This sort of comfort, of customers shouting casually at the Chef was part of the magic about the place. Juan happily shouted back “It’s already in the pan, I serve it for you in a couple a minutes!”
I left Miguel in peace to finish his dinner and continued chatting with my friends; my girlfriend said jokingly “I can’t take you out anywhere without you disturbing someone and talking food can I!” She was probably right.
Obviously the chef would not divulge his recipe as any good Restaurant’s business is built on such examples of food. I however was working in an Italian Restaurant at the time and worked with a very proud Spaniard; Susannah from Barthelona was the head waitress and was always claiming how all things Spanish were better than all things Italian. I asked her to get her mothers Zarzuela recipe and she was more than happy as she could then show our Italian boss that it was better than his traditional Marinara. I find the Zarzuela to be an absolutely magnificent dish, as is the Marinara but would not wager on one over the other as they are far too different. I hope that you enjoy discovering this little Spanish secret as much as I have.
Note:Keep in mind that this is a sort of a stew so don’t get too caught up on the actual seafood ingredients, use what you can source and is fresh.
- Sauté the onion, garlic, paprika and chilli pepper in oil in a medium sized saucepan until translucent and add a liberal splash of white wine.
- Reduce the wine until almost disappeared and add the tomatoes, pierce the tomatoes. Rinse the tomato tins with 2 cups of water and add to the pot.
- Bring to the boil and reduce to simmer for approx 1 hour.
- Add the stock and simmer a further 1 hour, plenty of time to prepare the seafood.
- Clean and de-beard the mussels, put in the fridge. (For tips on cleaning mussels see “Cleaning Mussels” in Techniques).
- Cut the squid tubes along one edge so they are no longer a tube but one flat surface.
- Gently, with a very sharp knife, score criss cross cuts on what was the inside of the tube (approx 1 cm scores). Cut each scored squid tube into about 6 pieces, then put them in the fridge.
- I recommend you leave the heads on the prawns, but if you’d rather not, feel free to remove them at this stage.
- Remove the shell from the body of the prawns; leave the tail and head attached.
- Gently pull the prawns head forward and you will find the intestinal tract and cord running from the head to the body, slide a skewer or the back of a small knife under this and gently pull up. By doing so the cord and tract will slide right out of the body.
- If the tract/cord breaks with some of it still in the body you will need to make a small slice along the back of the prawn and remove it from there.
- Rinse them and place in the fridge.
- Cut the perch into the same amount of pieces as you have guests, rinse and refrigerate.
- Rinse the scallops and place in the fridge.
- Toast the almonds and hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium heat until golden brown and immediately remove from the pan, allow to cool slightly.
- Place the parsley (leave a little aside for garnish) into a food processor with the nuts and process on high, add 2 tbsps olive oil and process on high until smooth.
- Stir this into the tomato sauce as well as the fish stock, bring it all to the boil and reduce to simmer.
- Add some salt and pepper to some flour and lightly coat the squid pieces and fry on high heat in a liberal amount of oil in a large deep pan for a couple of minutes.
- Repeat the same process for the perch.
- Clean the pan, return to the heat with some more oil and fry the prawns on high heat for a minute or two.
- Add the mussels, squid, clams, a little of the clam brine and pour in the simmering sauce, reduce heat to medium and add the scallops and perch.
- Once the mussels have all opened, all the other seafood should be perfectly cooked, taste for seasoning and season to taste.
- Depending on the occasion you may just want to place the pan on the table with a chopping board of bread or you may want to plate it up, if so; arrange your four plates and divide the seafood up evenly amongst them using a set of tongs, and then ladle the sauce over that, a sprinkle of parsley and serve, a red or white can be served with this dish.