Hunger Management

Seafood stew: Lighten up after festive feasts

Large tiger prawns and firm seabass are a must in this seafood stew.
Large tiger prawns and firm seabass are a must in this seafood stew.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

This fresh and bright seafood stew is a perfect dish to make after the non-stop festive feasting

I don't know about you, but I am very glad to be done with turkey and ham season, although I still have leftovers of both in the freezer.

However, in about 11 months, I will be like Pavlov's dog, hankering after both as Christmas approaches.

It's the glutton's cycle.

But for now, I do not want to look at or eat turkey and ham for a long time. In fact, I got over them on Boxing Day, and remember feeling very glad that lunch at a friend's home is full of what he calls Happy Food - chicken curry, two kinds of fried bee hoon and delectable char siew that another friend had brought.

Instead of Christmas pudding and cookies, we snack on keropok. Perfect.

  • MAKE IT YOURSELF: SEAFOOD STEW

    INGREDIENTS

    500g prawns, heads and shells on

    2 small fennel bulbs, about 500g (above)

    500g mussels or clams or a combination of both

    500g skin-on seabass fillet, or use another firm white fish

    2 medium onions, about 400g

    4 to 5 cloves garlic

    2 carrots, about 350g

    2 Tbs grapeseed or other cooking oil

    2 411g cans of diced tomatoes, preferably with no salt added

    Zest and juice of 2 oranges

    Salt to taste

    METHOD

    1. Shell the prawns, reserving the heads and shells. Rinse them under running water and place in a small pot. Pour 800ml of water into the pot, place it over medium high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the stock into a measuring jug, you should have about 700ml. Set aside.

    2. While the prawn shells are simmering, slice the stems off the top of the fennel bulbs. Pluck off the feathery  fronds and reserve them for garnish. Add the stems to the pot with the prawn shells. Slice off the root end of the fennel bulbs and peel off the first layer. Halve the bulbs and slice thinly from stem to root.

    3. Rinse the prawns and devein them. Rinse the mussels and clams under running water in a colander and let drain. Rinse the seabass and cut into large chunks, about 4cm by 4cm.

    4. Peel and dice the onions, peel and chop the garlic finely. Peel the carrots and cut into 1cm cubes.

    5. Pour the oil into a large pot set over medium heat. Saute the onions until they turn translucent, about one minute. Add the carrots and stir, cooking another two minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute. Add the fennel and mix well with the other ingredients.

    6. Add the tomatoes, with all the liquid in the cans, to the pot. Add the prawn stock and orange juice. Turn heat up to medium high, stir and bring to the boil. After it has come to the boil, lower heat to medium and let cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.

    7. Bring the pot to the boil again and add the pieces of fish and orange zest. Let cook one minute, then add mussels if using. Cover the pot and cook for two minutes. Add the prawns and cook for two minutes uncovered and then finally add the clams if using. The stew is ready when the mussels and clams have opened up. Discard any that do not open.

    8. Add salt to taste and give the stew a good stir. Scatter the fennel fronds over the stew and serve with bread.

    Serves four to six.

On the day after Boxing Day, I make myself some congee, which I have with pickled vegetables. It is plain, yes, but my belly is very grateful not to have extra work.

This week's recipe, for seafood stew, is fresh and light, just the thing to make after a week or two of non-stop feasting. Yet, it is not too austere.

I use three of my favourite ingredients in the stew: fennel, tomatoes and oranges.

Fennel is in season this time of year and it is very good sliced thin and made into a salad with oranges. Eaten this way, you can really appreciate the anise flavour. In the stew, the slices of fennel turn juicy and biting into them is such a pleasure.

Since it goes so well with oranges, I add orange zest and juice to the stew to perk it up. Lemons are too sharp, but oranges give the dish a rounded sort of flavour that I like.

Tomatoes really make this stew. At this time of year, when the weather is cool, a creamy seafood stew makes more sense. But the idea is to get away from rich food and the tomatoes add lots of pep. I used canned ones because the flavours are much more intense.

Now I like the idea of using up everything and extracting flavour from all the ingredients.

Instead of buying fish or chicken stock, I use the prawn heads and shells, and the fennel stems, to make a quick stock. Why chuck out free flavour? The fennel fronds make a pretty garnish, so I save them from the bin too.

I never use citrus fruit without zesting them first, unless I am slicing up limes for a gin and tonic. The skin is where the fragrant oils are, so I never waste them. Orange zest adds a fresh note to the stew. The juice is pretty much an afterthought, to add liquid. It is the zest that gives the dish zing.

Shopping for the ingredients in the supermarket, I am spoilt for choice. I cannot find black mussels but there are green ones at a good price. I throw in a tray of flower clams because they look good.

For fish, I opt for seabass because its firm flesh does not disintegrate easily. Keeping the skin on helps too. Other options include barramundi, batang and halibut.

Prawns are a must and I get the largest tiger prawns I can find. Other options include squid and scallop. Just remember to add them last so they do not overcook. Flower crabs would add sweetness to the stew.

You can ladle the finished stew into bowls, but I like to plonk the pot on the table and let everyone help themselves.

Serve the stew with grilled bread. I halve baguettes lengthwise, brush olive oil on them and put them cut side down on a grill pan. When they are brown and lined with grill marks, I turn them over to toast the other side.

If this is too much trouble, brush the baguette with olive oil, line them up on a baking tray and stick them in a 180 deg C oven until golden brown.

This way is much easier, but the smoky flavour of grilled bread makes the extra work worthwhile.

For now, the stew is an antidote to heavy meals. Make it again on a hot July day, when it's too darn hot to eat anything else.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Lighten up '. Print Edition | Subscribe