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Scrumptious Seafood and Tortellini Stew

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Here we were, looking for something different to cook up for dinner. We try to incorporate variety into our diet while maintaining healthy food choices, so this dinner was destined to be an adventure.

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First, the ingredients.

Now, if you are looking for a recipe that is “by the book” or comprised of exact measurements, this might not be the one for you. I tend to cook by flavor quite a bit, so along the way I recommend you taste, taste, and taste again. Adjust seasonings, add more of the key ingredients you particularly enjoy, and allow the dish to evolve into a beautiful meal that will make YOU happy! That being said, here are the basic ingredients we will be working with:

  • 1 quart chicken/seafood stock (Don't worry, directions will follow...it's easy!)
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 ½ pounds white fish of your choice (I used flounder this time, but whiting, cod, tilapia, or swai would also be fine)
  • ½ pound shrimp, cleaned
  • About 12 ounces fresh cheese tortellini (Dried tortellini also works, but I recommend fresh if it is available))
  • ½ cup chopped scallion greens (Simply the green tops of green onions. I also like to use the snipped green tops from garlic plants for an added depth of flavor. I recommend growing a pot of them on your windowsill!)
  • ½ cup cooked bacon, cut small
  • 2 T. bacon grease from the cooked bacon
  • 2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms, either white or Crimini mushrooms are fine
  • 3 cups fresh kale, coarsely chopped
  • ½ t. salt (I prefer to use sea salt)
  • ¼ - 1/2 t. ground black pepper
  • pinch of paprika
  • 1 t. Tobasco sauce (feel free to add more if you like more heat)

Okay, so you have all of your ingredients together except for the quart of stock that you need to make before you do anything else. Now, commercial stock can be purchased if you don't feel like making your own. Simply purchase chicken base and seafood base in the soup section of your local grocery market, and mix them according to directions on the jar. You will want about a half and half mixture, and go light because you wouldn't want the finished broth to end up too salty. (You may want to avoid adding any extra salt later on, as commercial base usually contains salt already.)

HOWEVER, I prefer to make my own stock, for several reasons:

  • First, making my own stock allows me to use scraps that would otherwise go into the trash.
  • Second, homemade stock tends to be far superior nutritionally, and can be made with little or no salt added. This yields the benefit of all those minerals and trace minerals from the bones and shells..
  • Third, homemade stock simply has a fresher, richer flavor that can be adjusted. I can make it “more chicken-ey” or “more fishy” or “more beefy”, add more or less seasoning, etc.
  • Lastly, there is nothing like walking in the front door of your house and catching the warm scent of soup stock...that lovely aroma permeates your mind and will forever remind you of the flavors of home! So here we go with that stock...

I used the carcass of one chicken with most of the meat already removed. That was last night's dinner. I added the shells from three crab legs, also emptied previously of their meaty interior. One note about food safety: Bones and shells DO need to be kept refrigerated to avoid bacterial growth that can lead to food-borne illness. I usually keep a plastic container in the freezer and add bones and shells to it so that they are kept safely frozen for future use.

Now, drop that chicken carcass and crab shells into a pot with about 1 ½ quarts of water and bring it to a boil. When it boils, turn it down to a simmer over low heat with a lid on the pot. Just let it sit there simmering for a few hours while you prep the rest of your ingredients and then go do something else.

About those other ingredients:

Leaving your fish in roughly 2-3 inch chunks/fillets, place them into a bowl and pour the lemon juice over them.

Clean your shrimp. If you have pre-cooked shrimp with only the tails on, you will only have to pull off those crispy little tail pieces. If you have raw shrimp, you will have to clean them. This is very simple. Just twist off the heads, slide off their thin shell and tail, and remove the dark vein running down their back. Nothing to it. You can toss those cleaned shrimp right on top of your white fish, cover them, and place them in the fridge to marinate for now. Drop the shells into the pot with your stock cooking down...more flavor!

Now, some folks will balk at using bacon in a healthy seafood dish. Horrors! However, I don't have a problem with bacon used in smaller amounts, with judicious use of the fat. Essentially, I try to look at it as a seasoning to flavor a dish rather than as a whole meat item on its own. Because of this, I prefer using peppered bacon because of the extra flavor in the seasonings. You may use whatever sort of bacon you like, or omit it entirely if you choose. If you DO omit the bacon in this dish, you will need to replace the drippings with a little butter or oil...it is needed later when you brown those lovely fish pieces. Assuming you DO use the bacon, now is the time to cook it. Just sizzle it right up in a large skillet, then cut it into small pieces once it is cooked. You can cut it up first, but in my experience bacon is always easier to chop when cooked versus raw. Reserve your 2 T. grease in that large skillet, as it is the pan this entire dish will congregate in a little bit later.

Now go ahead and chop those scallions, kale, and mushrooms. The kale only needs to be roughly chopped as it will cook down quite a bit. I prefer the mushrooms to be nice big slices, but you may make them smaller if you prefer to have the mushrooms blend more into the dish.

After you do all of this, you get to walk away for a while and do something else. That stock will need to cook down for a while to develop a nice rich flavor, your seafood is brightening with the zing of the lemon juice, and everything else is ready to go.

Tick...tock...tick...tock...tick...tock

All right, a few hours have passed, your stock is ready, and everyone is wondering what that glorious aroma is wafting from your kitchen! (Remember, you have the stockpot and the scent of bacon mingling...scrumptious!)

Drain your stock through a fine colander to remove all solid matter. After all that time simmering you should still have a good quart or more left to work with. Place 2 cups of it into an empty pot, and add 2 cups plain water. Set that on your stove to boil. When it reaches a full boil, drop in your tortellinis to cook in that lovely rich broth. Fresh tortellinis only need about 7 minutes to cook, and I suggest pulling them out at about 5 minutes because they are eventually going back into a brothy skillet with your fish where they will finish cooking completely. Just set them aside in a bowl for now.

Meanwhile heat your large skillet with the bacon grease over medium-high heat and toss in the bacon pieces and chopped shallots. Stir that around to mix it up well. Now lay your fish pieces right on top of the shallots and bacon leaving a little space around the edged of your skillet Drizzle about half the lemon juice your fish was marinating in over the top and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Place your sliced mushrooms in the space you left around the edge of your skillet and cover with a lid. DO NOT put the shrimp in yet. Shrimp cook so fast, we want to save them until closer to the end.

After about three minutes your fish will begin to look almost cooked through...but not quite. Flip the pieces over to finish cooking through, only another minute or so.

Now pour in a cup or so of your stock that you have not used yet right into that skillet with your fish and mushrooms. Be ready for the curious peekers who will stick their noses through the doorway to investigate the amazing scent! Add your shrimp to the skillet now, stir in the cooked tortellini, then pile your kale on top of the whole thing. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper and the paprika. Dash the Tobasco sauce into your simmering broth so that it lighty flavors the seafood, then cover with a lid for about ten minutes to let the kale steam down.

Now, give this glorious concoction a gentle stir, being careful to leave the fish in nice large chunks. Cooked fish comes apart easily, so tread softly with that spoon. The tortellini will have finished cooking completely, soaking up even more flavor from the other ingredients, and the kale should be tender.

At this point you get to decide just how “brothy” you want your stew to be. If it seems that there is not as much broth as you would like, simply add a bit more of that last cup you have left of your stock and adjust your seasonings as needed. If you are serving this dish with a crusty loaf of bread, a little extra broth to soak up is a wonderful thing.

Remove your skillet from heat completely when the dish is finished to avoid continued cooking, and enjoy your fantastic seafood tortellini stew!

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