Friday, March 04, 2011

Fish Stew - Brodetto di Fano (Brodetto di Pesce alla Fanese)

Fano is a very beautiful touristic town on the Adriatic coast of Italy in The Marche region. Last september I was visiting with my sister Patrizia. It was an unforgettable vacation, the beaches are awesome, the people is friendly, the country around is astonishing and the food... Am I using too many superlatives here? I guess I have to, in order to explain the amazing experience.

During my stay an event took place: The "Sagra del Brodetto".  A 'sagra' is a street festival dedicated to a single theme, generally local food, and this 'sagra' in Fano was just extraordinary for the quality and the subject matter.

In fact a "Brodetto"  (literally translated in 'little broth') is a local fish stew, prepared in a unique way and utilizing the local super-fresh 'catch of the day' from the Fano harbour.  Many restaurant participated in the event that day with 'brodetto' on their menu, in addition to all the stands selling all sorts of gourmet specialties from all over the region.

We all went to several restaurant in town and we ate some of the best "brodetto" fish stew you can have on earth. After this experience of course we HAD to prepare our own. 
We decided to prepare our own "Brodetto" at home using the traditional recipe given to us by a neighbor and I am going to share the recipe here.

All starts with the fish. We went to my sister's favourite fish shop, one of the best in town. The counter was amazing for the variety and the freshness of the fish, molluscs and crustaceans.  Rita and Chicco, the owners of the shop, were very enthusiastic about the idea of us going to cook their local specialty. We asked for help and suggestions and they gave us plenty especially on the types of fish to be used.
Many of you will have all sorts of objections, I can already hear them: "I live across the ocean, where do I buy those fishes here?" My answer: you don't. Unless you are on the Adriatic coast, or at least in Italy, it will be almost impossible to find the same fish. But the principle of the recipe is very simple. It was a dish traditionally prepared in those times when no food was wasted, (if you are young and you don't understand what I am talking about, you better ask your mother or grandmother) with whatever fish was catch that would be FRESH but not the highest quality and wouldn't break your wallet. It was also prepared by the fisherman using all the small fish that couldn't be sold on the market.

You can prepare a very similar dish with whatever seafood is available in your area, the only important conditions are freshness and quality. Will it taste the same? Of course not. As a consolation, based on my experience, I can say that no two "brodetto's" taste the same, not even in Fano, as every cook will prepare it differently, with whatever fish they like or whatever they found at the market that day.

Back to the fish shop. We bought squid (seppie), monkfish (coda di  rospo or rana pescatrice), mullet (triglie), skate wings skinned (razza), shrimps (gamberi), mantis shrimp (canocchie or pannocchie), mussels (cozze), clams (vongole). The fish was thoroughly cleaned, scaled and be-boned for us in a few minutes.

Next stop the hardware store. The reason being you cannot cook a brodetto properly if you don't have the right pan.

The brodetto pan is a large iron skillet with a long handle, similar to a paella pan.  

If you don't have a brodetto pan (and very few have one) this recipe can be prepared in a large stainless steel skillet or sauté pan.

Now back at home. We cleaned and washed thoroughly all the fish and we started cooking.

Brodetto di fano (Fano's Fish Stew)
see also

About 5 lb of fish (about 2.5 kilograms):
squid (seppie), monkfish (coda di rospo or rana pescatrice), mullet (triglie), skate wings skinned (razza), shrimps (gamberi), mantis shrimp (canocchie or pannocchie), mussels (cozze), clams (vongole)
4 - 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 cups tomato puree
1 tablespoon tomato concentrate
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

In a large skillet on medium heat, place the olive oil. Add the onion. Sauté until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add tomato puree and tomato concentrate. Add vinegar. Stir to combine and cook for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Add the fish at intervals, starting from those who take longer to cook. Squid first, then larger fishes ....

.....followed by small fishes, skate, mullet, shrimps and mantis shrimps.

Finally add the mussels and clams. Add a little bit of water if the sauce is too think.

The stew is ready when the fish is thoroughly cooked and the mussels and clams are open.

We served it hot accompanied by a bottle of Verdicchio wine.

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