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.
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.
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!
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.