Marmitako… Spanish-style Fish and Potato Stew

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Marmitako… Basque stew of fish, potatoes, peppers and onions. I love Basque-style cooking. Love its simplicity, its simple flavors. Actually, Basque style cooking  is quite familiar to me. Not that I grew  up on Spanish dishes, but because this type of simple cooking was often found in many of my my mom’s dishes. Many Basque recipes rely on basic ingredients, ingredients like potatoes, peppers and onions…. recipes that are minimalistic in nature, with plenty of flavor. I especially love this type of cooking, because when you find yourself with simple pantry items, you can make a dish worthy enough to serve company. And it’s uncomplicated to execute…. 
I’ve been meaning to make a fish stew for some time now. The Spanish Marmitako has always, always been on my mind ever since I ran across it a few years ago. This stew not only caught my attention because of its simplicity, but also because I loved the sound of smoked pepper flavors associated with the stew. It’s interesting, but somehow I  never found the opportunity to make this dish. There seemed to be plenty of reasons that got in the way of making this stew… either I didn’t have peppers on hand, or the fish I had wasn’t really the type of firm fish this type of stew fares best with. And so, the years flew by…
But recently we found ourselves with cold weather and plenty of snow. It was the type of day that was best suited for staying home. With the cold weather, you tend to crave warm foods… especially soups or stews. In any case, I had bought some fresh rockfish a week prior, but I hadn’t cooked all of it. I ended up freezing the last few fillets I had. Normally if I freeze fresh fish, I like to use it it within a week of freezing to keep its freshness. And when I defrost it, I love to apply the brining method to “bring it back to life”.
Marmitako was on my mind that day. But what to do… I had no fresh bell peppers on hand. And I knew I didn’t have enough fish either. But I decided to forge ahead with the recipe and adjust it to fit my needs. I’d use what I had on hand. The jar of roasted red peppers would suffice as a substitute for the fresh peppers… and to make up for the small amount of fish I had, I’d use some shrimp. It would have to do… And so, my marmitako-style stew was created. 
I must mention that I didn’t find any Marmitako stew recipes that add any lemon or lime juice to the dish. But the original recipe, dating back to fishermen making this stew on fishing boats, contained plenty of wine… some even used a splash of cognac. However, since I didn’t add any wine in my recipe, I felt the need to add some sort of acid to balance out the flavors. So I added some meyer lemon juice(because I had a small wedge on hand) and the juice of 1/2 a  lime. It brightened and totally made the dish for me. Not traditional, but it worked… and it was needed. Adjust acid amount to your own preference… or skip it altogether. And you may not need to add any, especially if you are using wine for part of the water (see note below).  Hope you enjoy…
Note: Traditional Marmitako uses some white wine to deglaze the onion and peppers. You can certainly add some in the beginning, while adjusting water amount later on if needed. 
Tips: This stew has a stronger smoked paprika flavor  … if you don’t care for smoked paprika, then by all means use the sweet paprika. Or if you like a bit of smoked flavor, then use less of the smoked paprika and supplement the rest with sweet. 
Also if you don’t have any dried guajillo chile peppers, then omit and increase the paprika a tiny bit.

Make Ahead: The main part of the stew can be prepared up to the point when you are about to add the fish. The prepared stew keeps well in the fridge overnight. Just reheat the following day, and add the fish before serving.

You will need: inspired by the Washington Post
2-3 dried guajillo chiles(can use ancho)
boiling water
2 lbs firm fish(tuna is preferred, but I used 11/2 lb rock fish + 1/2 lb shrimp)
4 cups water
1 TBS kosher salt
2 TBS olive oil
2 onions, sliced thinly
2 roasted and peeled bell peppers (I used jarred red peppers)
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut in cubes
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp hot smoked paprika( can use sweet)
1 tsp reg. smoked paprika( can use sweet)
1 1/2 TBS tomato paste
4-5 cups water 
2 small bay leaves
2-3 tsps kosher salt, or to taste
lemon or lime juice to taste
chopped parsley to taste 
extra olive oil to drizzle

1. Place dried chiles in a bowl of sorts. Add boiling water to completely cover. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
2. Cut fish in large chunks… if using shrimp devein and remove outer shell. Place seafood in a shallow dish. Combine brine( salt and water) and pour over seafood. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
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3. Thinly slice onion… and cut peppers in small 1 inch strips. Set aside.
4. Peel and cut potatoes in 1 1/2 inch cubes. Cover potatoes with water and set aside.
5. After 30 minutes, remove guajillo chile peppers from water. Cut peppers open and remove seeds. With a spoon scrape off pepper flesh. You should have about 1 1/2 tablespoons of pepper flesh. Set aside.
6. Remove seafood from brine and set aside in the fridge while you get stew ready.
7. Crush garlic cloves and set aside. Measure tomato paste and add to crushed garlic cloves. Measure out paprika and add to scraped pepper flesh.  Of course, you can add these 4 ingredients together in a small bowl of sorts.
8. In a  large pot, add 2 TBS olive oil and heat on medium heat.
9. When oil is hot, add onion with a pinch of salt. Cook onion until soft and translucent … about 8 minutes or so, stirring every so often, lowering heat to med/low. 
10. When onion is soft, add sliced roasted peppers, tomato paste, scraped guajillo chile pepper flesh, garlic, and paprika.
11. Stir ingredients to combine and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes on med/low heat.
12. Add 4 1/2 cups water, potatoes, bay leaves, and salt. Stir to combine.
13. Bring stew  to a boil, cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook covered for 20- 30 minutes …. or until potatoes are soft and cooked through.  Throughout the cooking you can lift cover and stir so potatoes aren’t sticking(they shouldn’t)… and add 1/4- 1/2 more cup of water, if needed…. especially if you feel the stew is too concentrated.
14. Using a fork, crush a few potato chunks(can be optional) to thicken the stew a bit… maybe about 4-5 potato cubes. Adjust seasoning.  
NOTE: The stew can be prepared up to this point and reheated the day of serving … and fish added just before serving.
15. Add chunks of fish and cook for an additional 2 minutes or so… or until fish is barely cooked through… don’t overcook.
16. Add shrimp and cook for an additional 1 minute or so… or until shrimp turn pink. The fish and shrimp will cook rather quickly…. 
17. Add lemon or lime juice to taste… I added juice of 1/2 lime and 1 TBS meyer lemon juice. Top with parsley(can use cilantro).  Drizzle with extra olive oil.

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