Zarzuela: A Spectacular Spanish Seafood Stew

Seafood Soups

You know when you taste something from another country that is so incredible that it makes you contemplate, for a brief second, going straight to the airport and flying to that country just so you can eat it EVERY DAY?  That’s zarzuela. A stupendously delicious Spanish seafood stew that is THAT good.

Now this shouldn’t be a surprise considering that zarzuela has the coolest name of any seafood stew in the world. Say it slowly and really emphasize that second ‘z.’ Zar-zzzzzwella! I love the way it rolls off the tongue. When a dish sounds that romantic and exotic you know it’s sure to taste even better.

What is Zarzuela?

Zarzuela hails from the Catalonia region in Spain. The Spanish seafood stew is aptly named after a genre of Spanish musical theatre that blends many contrasting styles of music and dance. Similarly, the stew also blends contrasting ingredients that fuse beautifully when you throw them all together in a stew pot. And though it bears resemblance to many other Mediterranean seafood stews it’s those contrasting elements that make it unique. 

Its defining feature is an almond paste, mixed into the tomato-based broth, which gives the stew a richer, heartier feel than other types of Mediterranean stews like bouillabaisse.  

It’s also typically (but not always) enhanced with some type of cured pork like serrano ham or prosciutto.

Finally, it’s also usually more shellfish-rich than other seafood stews. It’s often called “zarzulea de pescado” though you’ll also see the more aptly titled “zarzuela de mariscos” (“mariscos” means shellfish in Spanish) as a way to distinguish it from the theatrical genre. Fish can be added for sure, and my recipe includes it, but it’s not totally necessary. 

These three things – almond paste, cured pork and shellfish-rich – create a distinctive synthesis of nutty, smoky and briny flavors that is truly astounding and will surely stir up some passionate emotions of deep love, nourishment and possible spontaneous travel. 

You have been warned. Make this Spanish seafood stew recipe and I’ll betcha you’re emailing me from Spain in a few days. 

Truth be told, I may just join you.

Spanish Seafood Stew Recipe (Zarzuela)

Spanish Seafood Stew (Zarzuela)

Spanish Seafood Stew (Zarzuela)

Zarzuela is a unique Spanish seafood stew that combines many types of shellfish, cured pork, veggies, herbs and spices in a broth blended with an almond paste. The result is a nutty, briny, smoky stew that is so good it's almost painful!

Course Main Course
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings 8 servings
Author Craig Fear


For the almond paste:

  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups loosely packed parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup olive oil

For the stew:

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 cup cured pork such as serrano ham, prosciutto or chorizo sausage diced
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic diced
  • 2 TBSPs tomato paste
  • 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ½ tsp saffron threads
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 ounces brandy
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • 2 cups clam broth

5-6 pounds of 3-6 different types of fresh seafood of your choice such as:

  • 1 pound littleneck clams rinsed and scrubbed
  • 1 pound mussels rinsed and scrubbed
  • 1 pound shrimp deshelled
  • 1 pound squid cleaned and sliced
  • 1 pound scallops bay or sea
  • 1 pound lobster meat chopped into chunks
  • 1 pound crab meat
  • 1 pound lean whitefish such as cod, haddock, pollock, monkfish, halibut, black sea bass, etc.

Optional seasonings, to taste

  • Fresh parsley leaves chopped
  • Lemon wedges
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Add the saffron to the white wine and let it steep for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Make the almond paste. Add the almonds, parsley, garlic and olive oil to a food processor and pulse it until it forms a thick, grainy paste (don’t overblend it into a smooth paste). Set it aside.

  3. Heat the olive oil in a large stock over medium heat. Add onions and cured pork and saute for about 5 minutes until onions are softened and translucent. Add garlic in the last minute.
  4. Add the brandy and white wine with saffron and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, fish stock and clam broth. Simmer another 5 -10 minutes.

  6. Add the paste and stir it in. Simmer a few more minutes.
  7. Add the clams and mussels and simmer gently until the shells open. Stir once or twice so they cook evenly.
  8. Turn off the heat. Add the rest of the seafood, cover the pot and let it cook in the heat of the broth for 5 – 10 more minutes. Stir occasionally to submerge everything in the broth.
  9. Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste.

Recipe Notes

For a deeper almond flavor you can roast the almonds first. Simply heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add the almonds for several minutes, stirring frequently until they are lightly browned.

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Zarzuela: A Spectacular Spanish Seafood Stew

About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.