As noted, I view January as bowl-food month. Therefore, I shall close out the month with an ambitious stew. I won’t lie — it’s a bit of a project. But hey, since many of us are homebound and hunkering down, why not roll up our sleeves and have some fun with this recipe?
I am a big fan of chowders and cioppinos, as you may have noticed, and I created this recipe with the deliberate intention of layering a stew with big bites, flavors and textures. It’s winter, after all, which is the season of layering: layers of clothing, layers of bedding, and layers of nourishing ingredients in our meals.
This stew is the sum of its parts. Each ingredient stands out, yet complements the whole, with a balance of sweet, smoke, heat and brine. Each ingredient is addressed separately before uniting in the pot, taking care to prevent a mushy muddle.
Smoky chorizo slices are browned first for char and flavor, then set aside to prevent softening and dullness in color by overcooking in the soup. Their legacy — flavorful oil — remains in the pot to infuse the stew with heat and smoke. Planks of butternut squash are then sauteed in the oil to lightly caramelize and coax out their sweetness. They, too, are set aside and added in the end, to avoid turning mushy while preserving their brilliant saffron color.
The stock continues to develop with the usual suspects (aromatics, wine, tomato), and then the clams are added. As the clams simmer, their shells open, releasing their briny juice into the stock. The ingredients reunite, and the stew is topped with fried oyster croutons, spiked with Sriracha, adding a crispy playful bite. A cooling dollop of saffron-scented aioli adds a creamy finish.
Smoky Clam and Chorizo Stew With Butternut Squash and Fried Oyster Croutons
This is a big one-bowl meal. While it’s labeled a stew, it’s meant to be dug into with a fork, possibly a knife, and, of course, a spoon.
Active time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
1/2 cup homemade or good-quality mayonnaise
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce
Generous pinch of saffron threads
12 to 16 shucked oysters
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces Spanish-style chorizo sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut in 1-inch squares about 1/2-inch thick
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large roasted red bell pepper, peeled and seeded, drained well if jarred, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1 bay leaf
12 to 16 Manila or middleneck clams
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves for garnish
Whisk the aioli ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate util use.
Place the oysters in a bowl. Whisk the buttermilk and Sriracha in a separate bowl, then pour over the oysters to cover and set aside. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper in another bowl and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep skillet or wide pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage slices and brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel. Add the squash to the skillet, in batches if necessary, and pan-fry in the sausage oil until tender but still firm and lightly charred on both sides, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
If the pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and saute until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the roasted red pepper and garlic and saute about 1 minute more. Stir in the tomato paste, paprika, thyme and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan, and reduce by about half, scraping up any brown bits. Add the tomatoes and bay leaf. Simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.
Add the clams to the stew. Cover the skillet and cook until the clam shells open, 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the size. (Discard any unopened clam shells.) Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
While the stew is simmering, fill a large heavy saucepan with 2 inches of vegetable oil. Heat over medium-high heat until a deep fry thermometer reads 350 degrees.
Remove the oysters from the buttermilk, shaking off any excess liquid. Dredge in the corn flour. Fry in batches, without overcrowding, until golden and crispy, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.
Ladle the stew into warm serving bowls. Top each bowl with 3 to 4 oysters. Spoon a little saffron aioli into the center of the soup. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture” (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106; or send email to email@example.com; or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.
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