There are a few perks of moving to the East from Chicago, and one of them is access to fresh seafood straight from the Chesapeake Bay. Not far from where I live is a wholesale food complex. Most of the giant warehouses are closed to the public, but in the seafood warehouse, one store is open - Frank's Seafood.
If you go before Noon, there's a $2 entry fee, which is a bargain. Frank's isn't a big place in terms of square footage, but among local seafood resources, it's a giant. None of the other local markets even come close in supplying fresh fruits de mer.
On the day I visited rockfish, swordfish, hake, flounder, scallops, clams, mussels, salmon, tuna, tilapia, Chilean sea bass, a couple of different types of fresh oysters, and many other types of fish were on display. Some items not local - like huge frozen snow crab legs - were also available in the small freezer section. I brought my little cooler in, they filled it with fish and ice, I paid up (ouch - you pay for freshness), and brought my treasures home.
My brother-in-law recently came to visit. He comes from Louisville, Kentucky on the mighty Ohio river. Louisville is a good place to find fresh catfish and other lake and river fish, but they're an awful long way from anyplace where mussels and clams grow wild (majestic herds of clams, sweeping across the veldt. Swim free! As free as the- oh, sorry mind wandered there for a minute...).
My goal was to fill him full of fresh seafood over the three days he was here. I think we succeeded. Several types of fish were in this Italian-style stew from Joan Nathan's New American Cooking cookbook. I'm making it again this weekend for my in-laws and may change up the recipe a bit. As is, it was delicious but I wouldn't have minded just a little more tomato and fennel flavor. I had to make a couple of substitutions to the original recipe as it is somehow impossible to find frozen fish stock in this area, and I am personally unable to eat shrimp. Feel free to try it either way.
The book this is from, by the way, is a great resource for regional cuisine. The book notes this particular fish stew originates in San Francisco, though the recipe is from Larsens' Fish Market on Martha's Vineyard on the other side of the country. Whatever coast it comes from, it's likely to please.
Cioppino adapted from The New American Cooking, p. 273-4, Knopf, 2005
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, white and some green, cleaned and diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (seeds optional)
2 cups white wine
4 cups clam broth
4 cups fish stock (or veg stock if fish stock is mysteriously un-locatable)
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (though I may increase this next time)
salt and pepper to taste
(the original has 24 clams and mussels and a pound of shrimp. I've upped the clams and mussels and eliminated the delicious looking creatures that make my throat close up. If you're not allergic to shrimp you may add them in as well)
1 pound sea or bay scallops - if omitting shrimp add a little more
1 pound cod, monkfish, swordfish, any firm fleshed fish, cut in 2-inch chunks
4 tablespoons cilantro or flat leaf parsley for garnish
The book recommends making the broth ahead of time (24 hours if possible), reheating it and then adding the seafood. I made it all in one go, and it turned out delicious, though a day of mellowing in the might have improved the intensity of flavors in the broth. Try it both ways.
Heat the oil in the bottom of a large soup pot. Add all the vegetables and and sautée until the onions go translucent. Add the wine, bring to a boil and reduce by 50%.
Add the clam juice, fish stock, and tomato sauce and bring to a boil again. Add a little tomato paste as well if you want more bottom to the dish. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Taste, add salt and pepper to taste.
At this point, you may stop and cool the broth, holding it for 24 hours to let the flavor develop. If so, then the next day, bring it back up to a boil and then -
Add the clams. Only the clams. When the first one starts to open (and I mean OPEN not just kind of open), add the mussels, shrimp, if using, scallops, and fish chunks and cook 2 minutes or so until the mussels have opened wide.
Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with parsley or cilantro, and serve with garlic bread.
Make sure guests discard any clams or mussels that have not opened - they gave up the ghost before they hit the stew and may be bad. And a bad shellfish is nothing to mess with.