doubt there’s a European fishing community that doesn’t have its own version of fishermen’s stew. The Italians call it brodetto, the French bouillabaisse, and the Portuguese refer to it as caldeirada. Even in the this country, San Francisco is well-known for its cioppino — the real “San Fransisco treat,” in my book. Although some of the ingredients may vary by country and region within each country, the dish’s origins are often the same. The village fishermen would gather together at the end of a very long day and into a large pot they would add whatever fish that hadn’t been sold, a few vegetables, some spices, and a little wine. A short while later, with some crusty bread in hand, each would sit back and enjoy a feast among friends, no doubt filling the night air with tales of the ones that got away.

Living in Chicago, we have a wide assortment of seafood available, some of which is fresh while the rest has been flash frozen for shipment here. Although I prefer fresh, I will buy frozen and usually have shrimp and a variety of fish fillets in my freezer. If I see a sale somewhere for fresh mollusks, be they little neck or manila clams, mussels, or cockles, I’ll buy some, along with some scallops, and that night’s dinner will be brodetto. The recipe I’ll follow then is the one that I’m going to share with you now. And just like the stew the old fishermen threw together, the amount and types of seafood in my brodetto may vary but the basics remain the same. Fish, mollusks, and shrimp are added to a simple tomato broth flavored with a few herbs, garlic, and wine. Serve it in a bowl with some crusty bread, like ciabatta, and you’ll have a spectacular dinner, as well as a new-found respect for those fishermen of old.

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Brodetto Recipe

Yield: 6 generous servings


  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup stock (fish, clam, vegetable, or chicken)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1  large can (28 oz) whole or large dice tomatoes. (or 8 to 10 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped into large pieces)
  • 3 or 4 stems of fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 18 little neck or 24 manila clams or cockles
  • 1 doz mussels
  • 3/4 lb large shrimp
  • 1 doz scallops
  • 1 – 1 1/2 lbs fish fillets, cut into large, equal sized pieces (cod, haddock, halibut, striped bass, pollock, red snapper, or any combination may be used)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped, for garnish
  • extra virgin olive oil, for garnish


  1. At least an hour before you start cooking, scrub all the mollusks with a brush and soak the clams and cockles in cold water. Change the water at least once in the next hour. If using mussels, before scrubbing, grab hold of the “beard” and pull to remove. Keep cold until ready to cook.
  2. Once the mollusks have been sufficiently soaked and cleaned, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over med-high heat. Add red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Add garlic and parsley and continue sautéing for another minute or so.
  5. Add stock and wine, using the liquids to deglaze the pan.
  6. Add the tomatoes. If using canned whole tomatoes, use your hands to tear the tomatoes before placing the chunks into the pan. This is a stew, not a sauce. Large chunks are preferable.
  7. Add thyme and Italian seasoning. Season lightly with salt & pepper.
  8. Bring pot to the boil, reduce heat to med-low, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. If stew becomes too dry, add water or stock.
  9. Increase heat to med-high, add clams and/or cockles and cover the pan.
  10. After about 3 minutes, add the mussels and cover.
  11. About 3 minutes later, place the shrimp atop the mollusks and return the cover to the pan.
  12. 2 minutes later, add the scallops and cover the pan.
  13. About a minute later, add the fish to the top of the stew, cover the pan, and cook until all is done, about 3 or 4 minutes.
  14. Serve immediately in large bowls, garnished with a sprinkling of good quality extra virgin olive oil and freshly chopped basil. Be sure to have plenty of good, crusty bread available.


The recipe I’ve just shared is by no means set in stone. I imagine that the fishermen of long ago weren’t too strict about their ingredients. I think their only concerns were that the seafood was fresh and the wine plentiful. The rest took care of itself. Today, recipes abound and it’s not just the seafood that varies from one recipe to the next. Oftentimes vegetables will be added to the stew, with bell peppers, fennel, and potatoes frequently mentioned. Some cooks will start the recipe by creating and sautéing a soffritto of chopped onion, celery, and carrot. What does all this mean for you? Well, do you have a preference for, say, crab claws? Then add them to the mix. Don’t like mussels? Don’t use them. Want more of a vegetable base for your stew? Then start with a soffritto and add whatever veggies you like. In short, indulge your palate and make the recipe your own.

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Yes, you read that correctly: beef stew is next on the agenda. We’ll get to that but first I’ve got some ‘splaining to do. One of Chicago’s grocery chains has closed selected stores around town, renovated them, and is now re-opening each in grand style. One such re-opening occurred recently in my neighborhood and, of course, I attended and brought a friend. While there, he took advantage of one of the sales, buying a 4 lb bottom round beef roast. As you may already know, this cut of beef is not particularly well-marbled and isn’t the most tender of cuts. As such, it responds well to stewing or braising and is perfect for slow cooker stew. My friend asked if I had a recipe and I sent him this one in an email. Since I have the recipe handy, I might as well include it here now rather than later.

Before I share the recipe, however, we should probably look at a few of the ingredients. First off, I tend to avoid the grocery’s beef that’s pre-cut into chunks and labeled “beef for stew”. When I make stew, I prefer pieces that are 2 – 3 inches in size and those that are pre-cut are usually about half that size. So, I buy a 2 – 3 lb chuck, top round, or, as already mentioned, a bottom round roast. Once I get home, I cut the roast into chunks the size of my choosing. Of course, if you prefer smaller pieces, by all means go for it.

Zia and six-month-old Max.

Next, let’s look at the vegetables. If you’re considering making stew in a slow cooker, chances are you’ll be setting it up before leaving for work. Unless you have a sous chef, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend time chopping and cleaning your veggies. That’s why I recommend a small bag of new red or Yukon gold potatoes,  frozen pearl onions, and organic baby carrots. Only the potatoes need washing and everything can be thrown into the slow cooker as-is. If you prefer, feel free to use any type of carrot, potato, and onion that’s available. Just be sure to cut them into approximately equal-sized pieces so that they cook evenly.

Last to be mentioned is the wine. Although I use a few ounces of wine in this recipe, it’s not necessary and can be skipped, if you like. This isn’t boeuf bourguignon, after all. If you live alone, like I do, opening a bottle of wine just to use a few ounces in a recipe isn’t practical. I certainly don’t want to drink the rest with my dinner and watching it degrade on a counter or in the fridge is not the answer. I’ve found that the mini bottles of wine — about 5.5 ounces each — are the perfect solution. Our supermarkets sell them in sets of four and offer a variety of grapes. I buy one set of red and another of white. If a recipe calls for wine, I can use one of these bottles and have little, if anything, left over. Granted, these wines aren’t going to be of the same quality as those found in my wine rack but, then again, I’m not about to open an expensive bottle of wine just so that I can pour a few ounces into a stew. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether to use wine and, if you do, which one to choose. A general rule of thumb, however, states that if a wine isn’t good enough to drink, one shouldn’t cook with it. So, avoid the “cooking wines” at your grocery.

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew Recipe

yield: 6 – 8 servings

prep time: approx.  30 minutes

cook time: 8 – 9 hours


  • One  2 – 3 lb beef roast, cut into 2 – 3 inch chunks (less expensive cuts of meat are fine for this recipe)
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small package of new red or Yukon gold potatoes.
  • 1/2 small bag of organic baby carrots
  • 1 package frozen pearl onions
  • 1/2 package (about 4 oz) button or crimini mushrooms, quartered (more/less may be used according to your preference)
  • 1 small bottle (5..5 oz) red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 – 4 sprigs of thyme
  • One 32 oz. box low-salt, fat-free beef stock
  • salt & pepper, to taste


  1. Spray the inside of the slow cooker with your favorite cooking spray.
  2. Place olive oil in a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat.
  3. Meanwhile, use paper towels to pat dry the beef chunks, season them with salt & pepper, and place them into the now hot frying pan. DO NOT CROWD. The pieces should not touch each other or they will steam and not brown. You may need to do this in batches. Do not disturb the meat. After 3 minutes, gently lift one piece to see if it has browned. If not, return the piece as it was and wait another few minutes before checking again. Once it is browned, turn it over, as well as all the other chunks in the pan, Repeat this process until all the meat is browned on all sides. Remove the meat and place in the slow cooker. If needed, add a little more olive oil to the frying pan before browning the 2nd, or 3rd, batch of meat.
  4. Remove the frying pan from the heat, add the wine, and return to medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape off any residue from the pan’s bottom. Once the pan is “clean,” reduce heat to low.
  5. Sprinkle the flour on top of the meat in the slow cooker. Add the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
  6. Add potatoes, carrots, onions, and mushrooms, in that order, to the slow cooker.
  7. Season with 1/2 tsp salt & 1/8 tsp pepper (more/less if you prefer).
  8. Pour the now-heated wine over the slow cooker’s contents.
  9. Add enough beef stock to cover the beef chunks. It’s OK if some of the mushrooms or carrots are above the liquid.
  10. Set slow cooker on “high” for one hour and then “low” for another 7 hours. Alternately, you can set your cooker on “low” and cook for 9 hours.
  11. Remove bay leaves & thyme sprigs before serving.


Although not really a variation, I have made this recipe but without the potatoes. I then serve it over a bed of plain rice or one of buttered, wide egg noodles. Before doing so, I check to see if the gravy is thick enough for serving this way. If not, I use a slotted spoon to remove most of the cooker’s content’s to a platter, leaving the liquid behind. Turn the cooker to “high” and while the gravy heats, mix a couple tbsp of corn starch into about a 1/4 cup water. Add to the slow cooker, stir thoroughly, and heat on “high” for 10  minutes before returning the stew meat & veggies to the cooker. By the time everything is heated through, another 5 – 10 minutes, the gravy should be thick and ready to serve.

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