Journey to Southern Portugal: Algarve Seafood Stew with Vinho Verde

On my recent journey to Southern Portugal, the world’s largest cork producing region, I had a terrific chance to go on a beautiful cork trail. I got to see how corks are made from harvesting, to boiling corky barks (to make it flexible), to cutting corks, to making wine stoppers. Cork oaks live about 150 – 250 years. In its lifetime, its thick bark gets harvested about two dozen times. Locals told me that peeling off the tree’s bark every 9 years in order to harvest the cork actually helps the cork oaks to live longer and healthier. That comment made me wonder, “can less be more for us, too?” We often do a Spring clean to make a room for fresh things in our life. On warm days, we take off layers of our clothes to cool off. For tomato-based fish stew, we peel off tomato skin to create creamy texture. We even unload our unproductive thoughts to live life healthier. In some ways, I think our life resembles the cycle of the cork oaks. The process of peeling off, boiling, cutting & putting cork chips together also reminds me of the way that Southern Portugal’s Algarve region‘s seafood stew is created. Loving that incredibly delicious dish as much as the beautiful cork trail, I’ve decided to replicate it in my California kitchen this week.

First, I put 3 lbs monkfish (including the bone), 1 onion (roughly chopped), 3 carrots (roughly chopped), 3 celery stalks (roughly chopped), 10 springs parsley, 2 bay leaves and half lemon peel in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Then I add 1 cup dry white wine (Portuguese vinho verde), 10 whole peppercorns and 2 teaspoons sea salt and let it simmer for about 30 – 45 minutes. Separately, I heat the extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron pot and sauté a thumb-size ginger (peeled & grated), 2 cloves garlic (crushed), ½ fennel stalks (chopped), 2 leeks (chopped & used only white parts), 1 yellow bell pepper (chopped) and 1 lb ripe tomato (peeled & chopped) for about 5 minutes. Subsequently, I pour in the monkfish stock (strained) and the cooked monkfish meat to the pot. Then, I add 1 lb Chilean sea bass, a dozen clams, ½ lb shrimp, 2/3 cup dry white wine (Portuguese vinho verde), some freshly ground black pepper & sea salt and cook for about 10 minutes. Lastly, I sprinkle 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves & 2 tablespoons cilantro and serve with bread.

This Portuguese seafood stew is truly mind-blowing. If there were a world’s seafood stew competition, I think it would beat French bouillabaisse & Italian/Californian Cioppino. Its broth is amazingly rich, complex and seductive. Not only do all ingredients in the stew add unique flavors, but they all also soak in the delicious flavor of the broth. Monkfish, which lures other fishes with its seductive esca and then swallow other fishes whole, tastes as seductive as lobster tail. How firm and dense the texture is. On the other hand, Chilean Sea Bass, which tastes as rich as butter, has tender, “melt-in-your-mouth” texture. In this magical Portuguese seafood stew, there are no personality clashes. Instead, 1 plus 1 comes out 10 .

I pair this seafood stew with 2009 Anselmo Mendes “Muros Antigos” Vinho Verde from Minho region in Portugal. Vinho Verde is a youthful, mineraly, crisp white wine with distinct flavors of lemon peel and green apples. Aromatic and refreshing, it’s a wonderful wine to accompany this yummy seafood stew.

I hope you enjoy the discovery of the delicious Portuguese cuisine and wine. Next time when you go to Farmer’s market, grab some fennel in season, a licorice-flavored celery, and try making this seafood stew. It will delight you, your friends and family. Happy cooking!

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