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 de Mariscos, a stupendously delicious Spanish seafood stew that is THAT good.
Now, this shouldn’t be a surprise considering that Zarzuela de Mariscos has the coolest name of any seafood stew in the world. Say Zarzuela 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.
Zarzuela de Mariscos hails from the Catalonia region in Spain. The Catalan seafood stew is aptly named after Zarzuela, a genre of Spanish musical theatre that blends many contrasting styles of music and dance. Mariscos simply means shellfish in Spanish. Therefore, the stew is a blend of shellfish and other contrasting ingredients. They all 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 which is why it’s called Zarzuela de Mariscos as opposed to Zarzuela de Pescado, a Spanish fish stew, though there are many similarities between them. Fish can certainly be added to Zarzuela de Mariscos, and my recipe includes it, but it’s not totally necessary.
It doesn’t matter! The more the merrier. That said, it’s great to include a pound or two of whole clams and mussels. The liquids inside their shells, especially the clam juice from clams, really enhance the broth. I’d also recommend using whole shrimp, with both the heads and shells on, if possible. That will also add more flavor.
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You can also enhance the liquid base with some fish broth or fish stock (as opposed to just water). If you don’t want to make your own fish broth, Aneto Fish Broth, is a suitable store-bought substitute. My recipe includes 4 cups fish stock which is exactly what’s included in Aneto Fish Broth.
The rest of the ingredients (and steps) are pretty straightforward for a typical Mediterranean-style seafood stew. Everything else can be easily found in your local food market. I can summarize the whole recipe in one run-on sentence, like so…
After preparing the almond paste, saute a finely chopped onion, several cloves garlic, and the cured pork in olive oil over medium heat, add in a cup dry white wine (and some optional brandy), then your tomatoes and stock, simmer it all together for 10 minutes, mix in the almond paste, and finally, add your shellfish.
Told ya! Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. See the printable recipe card below for clearer directions.
But remember, the essence of Zarzuela de Mariscos is the almond paste, cured pork, and shellfish. These three things 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.
Zarzuela de Mariscos 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!
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.
Add the tomatoes, fish stock and clam broth. Simmer another 5 -10 minutes.
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.
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.