An operetta of fish, that is how British diplomat and culinary author Alan Davidson refers to zarzuela in his Mediterranean fish cookbook. Sounds like a beautiful, poetic description, doesn’t it? However, Davidson means it literally. The dish is named after a Spanish art form at the intersection of theater and music. La Zarzuela is something between a musical and an opera and then you are in the right direction with the word operetta. The music form itself owes its name to the Zarzuela Palace, the residence of the previous Spanish king in Madrid, where such pieces were once started to be performed.

We’re going to make this fish dish today, just like that, because it feels so festive to put something Mediterranean on the table in this dark season. Monkfish, the main ingredient, makes a fantastic broth, so let your fishmonger give you his ugly head too – that of the fish. The recipe only requires 300 milliliters, but you just freeze the rest. After all, a stock of fish stock in the freezer is never gone.

Once the stock is ready, the rest is ready in no time. When I write about grated tomatoes I mean that they should be halved and grated on a coarse grater until only the skin remains. You throw that sheet away. It’s about the pulp.

I wish you a pleasant performance.

Fish Zarzuela for 4-6 people

1 large monkfish (about 1 kg fish meat and 1 to 1.5 kg head), the meat cut into pieces and the head separately;
1 – 2 carrots, coarsely chopped;
1 large onion, peeled, diced;
olive oil; 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped;
a generous handful of parsley, finely chopped;
5 medium tomatoes, halved and grated on a coarse grater;
1 glass of dry white wine;
1 envelope (or tuft) of saffron;
½ tsp spicy paprika (no smoked paprika!);
300 g squid, cleaned and ringed; 300 g large shrimps, unpeeled.

coil the monkfish head under a running tap and place it in a large pan. Add the carrot and onion and pour over 1.5 liters of cold water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let the stock infuse, covered, for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the stock stand for another half an hour to an hour. Stewing over a fire for a long time makes fish stock watery, but standing unheated for a while makes it even tastier. Strain the stock and measure out 300 ml. Keep the rest in the fridge or freeze the stock.

Sets a large saucepan or, preferably, earthenware bowl over medium heat and pour in a generous splash of oil. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 – 2 minutes without coloring. Add the parsley and sauté for half a minute. Now add the tomato pulp, turn up the heat slightly and let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the white wine and let it simmer for another 5 minutes, until the sharp acidity of the wine has disappeared. Meanwhile, heat 3 dl fish stock. Place the saffron in a small bowl and add a dash of the hot stock. Let stand briefly and then add the soaked saffron, paprika and the rest of the stock.

Begin now with putting the fish in the pan. First the monkfish pieces, they need the longest: about 10 minutes. Two minutes later the squid rings can be added. Stir everything around so that the fish cooks evenly. After a total of 5 minutes, put the shrimp on top, so that they can cook for another 5 minutes. Flip them over halfway. Serve the zarzuela with toasted bread rubbed with the inside of a halved garlic clove.

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