Spanish shellfish stew recipe

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Zarzuela, Spain’s answer to French bouillabaisse, is a saffron-scented, tomato-based shellfish stew that’s thickened with a picada, a mixture of ground almonds, bread crumbs, and olive oil. Unlike many seafood stews, this one contains no fish stock or clam juice, instead relying on the shellfish to release their rich liquors into the pot as they cook. With this in mind, we enriched the broth by steeping the flavor-packed shrimp shells in wine while we prepared the other ingredients. A traditional Spanish sofrito of onion, red bell pepper, and garlic gave the stew a rich foundation. Staggering the addition of the clams, mussels, scallops, and shrimp ensured that each element was perfectly cooked. Stirring in the picada at the end provided richness and also thickened the stew. Fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon offered a bright, fresh finish. Be sure to buy shrimp with their shells on and reserve the shells.

  • Yield: 6 Servings
  • Total Time: 1 Hour


  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces medium-large shrimp (31 to 40 per pound), peeled and deveined, shells reserved
  • 1½ cups dry white wine or dry vermouth
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1½ pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 8 ounces mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 12 ounces large sea scallops, tendons removed
  • 1 recipe Picada
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon wedges
How to Make It
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add shrimp shells and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn spotty brown and pot starts to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Off heat, stir in wine, transfer to bowl, and cover and let steep until ready to use. Wipe out Dutch oven with paper towels.
  2. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, paprika, saffron, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in brandy, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in tomatoes and their juice and bay leaves and cook until slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Strain wine mixture through fine-mesh strainer into Dutch oven, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Bring to simmer and cook until flavors meld, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Nestle clams into pot, cover, and cook for 4 minutes. Nestle mussels and scallops into pot, cover, and continue to cook until most clams have opened, about 3 minutes. Arrange shrimp evenly over stew, cover, and continue to cook until shrimp are opaque throughout, scallops are firm and opaque in center, and clams and mussels have opened, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Off heat, discard bay leaves and any clams and mussels that refuse to open. Stir in picada and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in wide, shallow bowls with lemon wedges.

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