Seafood and Pumpkin Stew (Breton Style)
The last time I wrote, a long Indian summer was still keeping the recipes and stories summery. Work got the better of me and here we are in the winter months, a new year upon us and winter produce to challenge creativity.
Pumpkins and squashes aren’t something you think about when making seafood. However, ever since I first tried a Caribbean Pumpkin and Seafood soup in the Virgin Islands and then again much later in a Curry Seafood and Pumpkin Stew at the Baratin in Paris, I’ve been curious to try my hand at this seemingly odd combination.
Many cucurbitaceous vegetables are imports from the Americas, however some have been here so long that people think they are indigenous. Others have made it to Europe from the Mid-East. But, wherever they originated and whenever they made it to the stalls of Marché des Lices, they are all great for a myriad of recipes from savory to sweet.
So, far I’ve done a three styles of seafood and pumpkin soup – one inside a roasted pumpkin, impressive but complicated. A gorgeous velouté - a creamy bisque-like soup that needs a fish broth and takes some time. And, this recipe, by far the simplest. It’s wonderful when the weather turns a bit cooler and the market is brimming with potiron, potimarron, butternuts and what we found this articular day, courge musquée.
This dish is a Breton variation of the recipe. You can add whatever shellfish you want and even add dense fish like monkfish, seabass or halibut to the dish.
Some of you might ask what’s Breton about a curry dish. Well, French merchant ships from the French East India Company plied the seas from the 1640’s on. The sailors brought back everything from Chinese porcelain to spices from southern India, like curry. The company was based in the Breton city of Lorient (from 1664), where there is a wonderful museum dedicated to the history of the Company. That’s why you’ll find curry in quite a few fish recipes in western France.
Seafood and pumpkin stew, Breton style
Ingredients for 6
- 1 ½ lb of mussels cleaned
- 1 ½ lb of clams rinsed
- 1 lb langoustines or head on shrimp
- 18 scallops (three per person)
- 1 lb pumpkin or other orange or yellow sweet squash like butternut
- One large onion
- Two leeks
- 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
- 2 – 3 Bay leaves
- ¼ stick of salted butter
- 1 bottle of dry hard cider – have more on hand to drink while cooking and eating!
- 1 tsp of Madras Curry powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ cup Cream Fresh or Thick Sour Cream
- Fresh coriander or parsley, finely chopped
- 1 lemon
- Dice the leaks and onion. Mince the garlic
- Remove the outer skin from your pumpkin and cut the flesh into ¾ inch (2cm) cubes
- Melt butter in a large pot – add onion, leek and garlic, sweat until translucent 5 minutes (Don’t brown then!)
- Add cider, bay leaves and pepper – simmer mixture for 5 minutes
- Add curry powder*
- Add the pumpkin cubes – cook until “al dente” – just enough to cut a cube with a fork
- If the pumpkin has absorbed almost all your cider (you should have about ¾ of an inch (2cm) of liquid at the bottom of your pot) – add the remainder of the bottle. Bring up to a boil
- Add clams and mussels – stir and cover the pot. Cook until the shellfish start to open about 3 – 5 minutes. They will start to release their juices and add to the broth
- Add langoustines (or shrimp) and scallops, stir them in and cook for 3 minutes (not more, really, you don’t want to overcook seafood).
- Add in the cream, stir everything until the cream is well incorporated
- Taste the broth – add a pinch of salt if necessary. I don’t salt shellfish, they can be salty to start with.
- 1Sprinkle in chopped cilantro or parsley and a few drops of fresh lemon juice to liven up the flavors
- Serve in large bowls with spoons for the broth, plenty of napkins because, there is nothing better than munching on langoustine or shrimp heads!
A word about Madras Curry.
The term is about as ubiquitous as it gets for spices. You can find madras curry in supermarkets easily. It is just a mix of spices. They vary a lot. Mixes can be mild, fragrant, spicy or downright fiery. So, taste (or at least try to know) the spice mix before you use it. If you are lucky enough to have a real spice merchant, ask and they will guide you. Or, if you are really into it you can grind your own mix, see below!
Marie and I like our food spicy and fragrant, so we like a teaspoon of spicy curry powder. Sometimes we even add an extra pinch of cayenne pepper. You might like less or even a bit more than a teaspoon.
Another variant is to forgo the cream and add coconut milk to the mixture. If you want to try this, add the coconut milk to the broth before adding the shellfish. Change the lemon juice for lime juice and your dish will be reminiscent of a Caribbean Seafood Curry
Make you own curry powder – you’ll need a spice grinder (a cheap coffee grinder does the trick)
- Makes about half a cup
- 2 tablespoons of toasted cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons of toasted cardamom seeds
- 2 tablespoons of toasted coriander seeds
- ¼ cup of ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon of mustard powder
- ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (try to get the good stuff or better yet dried whole piment l’oiseau)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper corns
- 1 teaspoon dried ginger
- Optional for a fragrant curry – more for meats than fish:
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 5-6 cloves
- Put all your ingredients in the spice grinder – give a whir until the powder is a fine texture and there you have it.