Fortune favors the bold, but so does fish.
Using bright, big flavors in seafood is an easy way to impress your dinner guests and keep you from getting into a rut when it comes to cooking shrimp, scallops, mussels and everyday frozen fillets. These recipes rely on distinct ingredients, including saffron, harissa, chipotles and sriracha, to create memorable meals exploding with taste and texture.
You can switch up the kinds of seafood you use in each of these dishes, swapping out the shrimp for scallops or vice versa, for instance, or using clams instead of mussels; the general flavor profiles are the inspiration here. Think cioppino and bouillabaisse, but beyond.
In the parsnip-thickened saffron fish chowder, the saffron itself isn't super spicy, so add smoked paprika if you're craving heat. Want to use gochujang instead of sriracha in the ahi tuna poke? Go for it. Love the look of those chipotle mussels, but want to try it with harissa paste? Sounds delicious. Scallops would be delicious in that Tunisian pasta, and use any firm white fish in the tomato-fennel stew that's served with aioli. The idea is to think beyond garlic and lemon juice when it comes to seasoning your favorite seafood.
RELATED: Got fresh fish? A guide to making ceviche, aguachile at home
Saffron Fish Chowder
I have always found chowder super satisfying. So much so that I used to buy this soup weekly from my lovely friend Diana, who offered it on the menu of her community food co-op. It is so generous, nourishing and creamy, and the vibrant saffron does a little more than just make this dairy-free, gluten-free soup pop. A key component in saffron — crocin — may help treat symptoms associated with digestive disorders, including inflammation. I’ve added sweet potato too, because it’s delicious and a good source of resistant starch. As this soup is quite thick, you need to watch it attentively to ensure it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Just make sure to stir it gently to not break up the pieces of fish. To make this low-FODMAP, omit the garlic and use the green part of the leek instead of the white, reduce the celery to 1 stalk and swap the onion for the green part of 3 scallions.
— Carla Oates
2 cups homemade or store-bought fish stock
1 medium parsnip, peeled and diced
Pinch of saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons ghee or extra-virgin olive or coconut oil
1 leek, white part only, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
3 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium sweet potato, diced
7 ounces (1/2 can) coconut cream
12 1/2 to 14 ounces skinless barramundi fillet, cut into bite-sized chunks
7 ounces skinless salmon fillet, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges, to serve (optional)
Pour the broth into a small saucepan. Add the parsnip, saffron threads and paprika and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes or until tender. Using a hand-held or electric blender, blend until smooth. Set aside.
Heat the ghee in a medium saucepan over a low-medium heat. Cook the leek, celery, onion and garlic for about 3 minutes until softened. Add the sweet potato and stir to combine. Gradually pour in the saffron fish broth and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sweet potato is tender when pierced with a fork.
Add the coconut cream, barramundi, salmon and red bell pepper and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, without stirring, until the fish is just cooked and flakes easily. Add the parsley and gently stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired. Serves 4.
— From "The Beauty Chef Gut Guide: With 90+ Delicious Recipes and Weekly Meal Plans" by Carla Oates (Hardie Grant, $29.99)
Mussels in Chipotle Sauce
Mussels are a wonderfully sustainable seafood. They are plentiful, reproduce quickly, and improve the water quality by filtering it through their bodies. Not only that, they’re also inexpensive and absolutely delicious cooked in this rich and aromatic broth of white wine, chipotles and crema. If you want your dish to be spicy, blend whole chipotles from the can with crème fraîche. For less heat, use only the adobo sauce from the can of chipotles.
If you’ve never cooked mussels before because they seem fancy or you assumed they’d be difficult to cook, you’re in for a happy surprise. They couldn’t be simpler or quicker to make. Just be sure to wash them well. Use an abrasive sponge to scrub off their beards, the little tendrils by which they were attached to the rocks. As soon as mussels are done cooking, they open up. That’s when you remove them from the heat. This should take only a couple of minutes. For an extra pop of flavor, serve with warm garlic toast.
— Gabriela Camara
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely minced shallots
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
2 garlic cloves, pressed or mashed with a mortar and pestle
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups shrimp stock
4 pounds mussels, well scrubbed so that no grit or beards remain
1/4 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
2 tablespoons adobo from canned chipotles in adobo or 2 whole chipotles
Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottom stockpot over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering but not smoking. Add the shallots and cook until they’re translucent but not browned. Add the salt, then add the garlic and sauté for just 1 minute, until you can smell it. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and let boil for about 2 minutes before adding the stock. Return to a boil, add the mussels, and cover the pot. As soon as the majority of the mussels open, which should take only a few minutes, turn off the heat. Any mussels that don’t open should be discarded.
Combine the crema or crème fraîche and adobo or chipotles in a small bowl. Stir the chipotle mixture into the broth. Serve the mussels immediately in individual bowls, dividing the sauce evenly over the mussels. Garnish each portion with a scattering of parsley. Enjoy with a hunk of bread. Serves 4 to 6.
— From "My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions" by Gabriela Cámara and Malena Watrous (Lorena Jones Books, $35)
Spicy Tunisian Seafood Pasta
Four of Tunisia's most beloved ingredients — harissa, tomato concentrate, seafood and pasta — come together here. The amount of harissa to add depends entirely on just how spicy your harissa is and just how spicy you want the final sauce. Stir it into the sauce a little at a time, tasting until just the right level of heat is achieved. The mussels you buy should be glistening. Immerse them in a bowl of water and ice cubes for 30 minutes before you cook them; lift them out of the water to avoid reintroducing any grit. If you're not going to cook them right away, rinse them in very cold water and refrigerate in a loosely covered bowl. Chilled mussels should be shut tightly; if any of them are not, or they have broken or cracked shells, discard them.
— Jeff Koehler
20 mussels, cleaned
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 large whole large shrimp, peeled with tails on
12 ounces cleaned calamari or cuttlefish, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 medium green bell pepper, cored, de-ribbed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 plum tomato, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces small peeled shrimp, defrosted if frozen
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Homemade or store-bought harissa
14 ounces dried spaghetti
Combine the mussels and 1/2 cup of the water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover; once the water's boiling, cook/steam for about 2 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time, until the mussels have opened. Discard any that do not open. Let cool.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the large shrimp and cook, turning them over until pink and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a platter.
Add the calamari and cook until it is just tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the green pepper and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook for 1 minute, then add the small shrimp and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and some harissa (to taste; start with 1 tablespoon). Add the remaining 1 cup water; once the liquid is barely bubbling, cook for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, drain off the liquid from the mussels, strain and reserve. Twist off the empty half of each shell and discard.
Taste the sauce and add more harissa, as needed (in testing, we added 1/2 tablespoon more). If the calamari are not completely tender, add a touch of reserved mussel liquid and cook them a bit longer. Taste the sauce and add salt, as needed.
Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add a generous pinch or two of salt, then add the pasta. Cook, stirring from time to time to keep the pasta from clumping together, until al dente following the package directions. Drain, but do not rinse, shaking off any water that clings to the pasta.
Toss the pasta with the sauce. Divide among individual warmed bowls. Arrange the reserved shrimp and mussels on the top of the pasta. Serve warm. Serves 4.
— From food writer and cookbook author Jeff Koehler for The Washington Post
Spicy Ahi Tuna Poke
Sushi and ceviche, other raw seafood preparations, have long been popular on the mainland, while poke has remained Hawaii's well-kept secret. Though it isn't really a secret there, but a staple. Sold by the pound and scooped into plastic containers in the deli section of supermarkets, it is as common as potato salad in Honolulu. The most popular style of poke is remarkably simple, just five ingredients: raw tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet onion and scallion. I like to make my poke with the elements of salt, fat, umami and bite, which you can add with onions, ginger, chile, a squeeze of citrus or chopped kimchi. The poke mixture can marinate in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
— Martha Cheng
1 pound fresh tuna, preferably sashimi-grade, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion greens (crosswise; from 3 or 4 scallions)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup capelin fish roe (masago)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sriracha
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
Combine the tuna, scallion greens, mayo, fish roe, sriracha, soy sauce and salt in a mixing bowl. Fold gently until thoroughly blended. The poke is ready to eat, but it can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day. (If you plan to eat it later, taste for salt before serving.) Serve in bowls. Serves 4.
— From "The Poke Cookbook: The Freshest Way to Eat Fish" by Martha Cheng (Clarkson Potter, 2017)
Mahi-Mahi with tomato, kale, fennel and lemon aioli
This fish stew comes together quickly and makes for a delicious weeknight dinner. I love using mahi-mahi, because it’s relatively affordable and easy to work with. Local to some coastal regions, mahi-mahi also can be easily found across the country. If you’re left with extra onion and fennel stew, you can bake eggs in it for a delicious breakfast. You’ll also have extra aioli on hand — it makes a great vegetable dip.
— Michael Schwartz
For the onion and fennel stew:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 medium yellow onions, halved and sliced thin
2 cups chopped kale
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups marinara
1 tablespoon drained capers
For the fish:
4 (6- to 7-ounce) pieces mahi-mahi, patted dry
1/4 cup lemon aioli
Arugula leaves, for garnishing
Make the onion and fennel stew: In a large pan, warm the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant and softens, about 2 minutes. Make sure the garlic does not put on color.
Add the onions, kale, and fennel bulb and continue to cook, stirring, until the vegetables are translucent and softer, 8 to 10 minutes. Make sure the onions and fennel do not put on color.
Add the fennel seed, crushed red pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and cook, stirring, until the spices are toasted, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Cook until the wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
Add the marinara and capers along with 1 cup water. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low so the mixture is at a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is the consistency of stew with some juice. Keep warm.
Make the fish: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large ovenproof skillet (a quality nonstick pan works great here), add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot and heat over high heat until the oil is shimmering. Season the fish with salt and pepper and place the fish in the pan, flesh side down. Cook the fish for 1 minute, until nicely seared, then flip and transfer the pan to the oven. Roast the fish 5 to 7 minutes, or until cooked through and no longer pink in the center.
To serve, divide the onion and fennel stew among four plates, and place one piece of fish over each stew mound. Spoon a dollop of aioli over the fish and garnish with arugula. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
1/2 cup mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
1 small clove garlic, minced
Pinch kosher salt, plus more as needed
In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice, garlic and salt until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Refrigerate until needed, for up to 2 days. Makes 1 1/2 cups.
— From "Genuine Pizza: Better Pizza at Home" by Michael Schwartz (Abrams, $29.99)