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Mixed Shellfish Pot-au-Feu

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

A traditional French pot-au-feu is a long-simmered pot of beef and vegetables with not a bit of fish in it. Naming this seafood soup after such a distant cousin may be carrying poetic license too far, but the two dishes do have certain similarities. Both contain a variety of ingredients simmered together and served in a light, unthickened broth.

I don’t recommend making this soup for more than 4 people because there is a lot of last-minute cooking and arranging of shellfish in bowls. This soup can be served as a first course, but because it is so elaborate it makes more sense to serve it as a dramatic main course.

The recipe calls for 4 kinds of shellfish—mussels, clams, scallops, and oysters—but the soup can be made with as few as two. The important thing is to use the correct techniques for each one and to cook them in the right order.

Makes4 generous first-course or light main-course servings

CostSplurge

Total Timeunder 1 hour

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date

Recipe Coursehot appetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationdiabetic, egg-free, lactose-free, low carb, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Mealdinner, lunch

Moodfestive

Taste and Texturebuttery, herby, savory, winey

Type of Dishhot soup

Ingredients

  • 12 littleneck clams
  • 12 cultivated mussels
  • ½ pound sea scallops, 1 large or 2 small per person
  • 8 large shrimp, preferably with heads, heads left on, bodies peeled (peeling optional)
  • 12 oysters
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ¾ cup fish broth or water
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley leaves
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Salt
  • Slices of French bread, toasted

Instructions

  1. IN ADVANCE Up to 24 hours ahead, wash the clams and mussels and discard any dead ones. Remove the small muscle from the sides of the scallops. If the scallops are more than ½ inch thick, cut them crosswise into 2 or even 3 disks. Shuck the oysters into a small bowl. Be sure to save any liquid that comes out of the shell. If the oysters seem gritty or have pieces of shell attached to them, roll them on a clean kitchen towel for a few seconds to pull off the grit. Strain the liquid. Combine the strained liquid and the cleaned oysters in a bowl. Reserve in the refrigerator.

  2. AN hour or two before serving, combine the wine, fish broth, and shallots in a 4-quart pot. Bring the liquid to a slow simmer and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid.

  3. After the liquid has simmered for about 10 minutes, add the clams. Replace the lid and simmer the clams for 8 minutes.

  4. Lift off the lid to see if any of the clams have opened. If none have opened, cook them for a minute more and check again. Keep doing this until the first clam opens, then add the mussels.

  5. Cover the pan and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes more. Keep checking until all the clams and mussels have opened; remove the pot from the heat.

  6. TAKE the clams and mussels out of the pot with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Let them cool slightly and pull off the top shells, leaving the clams and mussels in their bottom shells. If you’re not serving the soup immediately, cover the clams and mussels with plastic wrap and keep them in the refrigerator.

  7. IF the broth used for cooking the clams and mussels seems sandy, pour it carefully into another container, leaving the sand behind, or strain it through a cloth napkin or a triple layer of wet cheesecloth (rinsed first to eliminate bleach or chemicals). Reserve in the refrigerator until needed.

  8. AT THE LAST MINUTE Just before serving, divide the broth equally between two 2-quart saucepans. Put the clams and mussels in one of the saucepans, cover it with a tight-fitting lid, and put it over low to medium heat for about 5 minutes, just long enough to reheat the clams and mussels.

  9. Bring the broth in the second saucepan to a simmer and add the shrimp. Simmer the shrimp for about 3 minutes, until they turn red, and add the scallops. Poach them for 30 seconds to a minute, then add the oysters with their liquid. Poach the oysters for 30 seconds.

  10. TO serve, use a slotted spoon to distribute the shellfish among wide bowls. Combine the liquid in the two saucepans and add the chopped parsley and the butter if you’re using it. Simmer the broth for 30 seconds to cook in the flavor of the parsley. Grind in a little pepper and taste to see if it needs salt; it usually doesn’t. Pour the hot broth over the shellfish in the bowls. Pass a basket of toasted French bread or serve individual slices on side plates.

    SUGGESTIONS

  11. This pot-au-feu is served with the flavorful broth that is the natural by-product of cooking the shellfish. By definition, the broth from a pot-au-feu is left alone except for garnishes such as herbs and vegetables and light seasoning. But if you want a richer broth, you can finish it with some heavy cream, whisk it into a full-flavored mayonnaise such as an aïoli or rouille, or finish it with a vegetable puree.

  12. You can also make the pot-au-feu more colorful and substantial by arranging cooked vegetables with the shellfish in each of the bowls.

    VARIATIONS

  13. Combine the pot-au-feu broth with ½ cup heavy cream. At this point you can also flavor the broth with a pinch of saffron threads or a tablespoon of curry powder heated for 30 seconds in a tablespoon of butter.

  14. Whisk the pot-au-feu broth into ¼ cup aïoli or rouille in a stainless-steel bowl. Return the broth to one of the saucepans and heat it slowly to cook the sauce. Don’t allow it to boil, or the mixture will curdle.

  15. The pot-au-feu can be converted into a summer stew by adding tomato puree or finely chopped raw tomatoes to the broth to give it more substance and an exciting flavor and color.

  16. 4. For an elegant winter version of the pot-au-feu, add ¼ cup heavy cream and the leaves from 1 bunch of watercress (cooked for 2 minutes in boiling water) to the hot broth. Puree the mixture for 1 minute in a blender and serve with the shellfish instead of the plain broth.

    GARNISHES You can add almost any single vegetable or combination to the pot-au-feu to make it even more colorful and substantial. Try a mixture of carrots, leek, and turnip julienne cooked for 10 minutes in butter; fennel wedges braised in olive oil; little French string beans cooked for a couple of minutes in boiling water; spinach, boiled for 1 minute; or mushrooms—wild or cultivated—simmered in a covered saucepan with a little of the broth. You can also finish the broth with chopped herbs such as tarragon, chives, or parsley. Or try placing a few chervil sprigs over the soup just before serving.

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