Matelote de Poisson is a French seafood stew that is simple to make, and it looks gorgeous. Ask the fishmonger to cube the fish — having the fish prepped ahead of time will help... the stew come together in around 30 minutes, though it will taste like it cooked for hours. The trick is to add the fish in order, firmest first, most delicate last, so that the pieces hold their shape.
Dissolve the saffron threads in a little hot water. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium high heat. Saute half the garlic until it starts to turn golden. Add the onion and saute until it softens. Add ½ cup of the lemon water to deglaze the pan. Add the tomatoes and cook them down until they start to turn an orangey color. Add the saffron water. Cook for another minute.
Add the potatoes and just enough stock or water to cover. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer over a low heat until the potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for salt. Add the chunks of monkfish. Cook for 3-5 minutes.
Stir the sea scallops and cod into the stew. Cook 1 minute, then add the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp turns pink, about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, cook the mussels: Drain the cleaned mussels. In a separate large pot heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the reserved garlic and fry until it starts to turn golden. Add the remaining lemon water and cook down until it has reduced. Add the cleaned mussels, a generous pinch of salt, and the chopped parsley. Close the lid and cook them over a high heat, shaking the pan until all the mussels are open, about 3 minutes. (Ideally, add the mussels to the pot at the same time that the shrimp is added the stew pot, to ensure each is finished cooking around the same time.)
To finish the stew: Pour the liquid from the mussels into the stew and gently stir it in. Arrange the mussels on top of the stew, discarding any that are still tightly shut. Serve immediately with crispy baguette and a simple green salad.
If monkfish is not available, haddock, cod, or halibut also work well in this soup. (If you use the same type for the firm white fish, you’ll just need 1 pound total for the soup.)
Mussels are living things and need to stay that way until they are cooked. Eating a bad one can cause great discomfort. If not used to handling them, here’s how to avoid any problems:
Most mussels are sold pre-cleaned, but it pays to check them over. When getting the mussels home from the market, pick through them. Discard any that are broken.
If they have brown fibers or “beard” around the rims of their shells, run a sharp knife around the shell to remove. Tap any open mussels sharply with your knife. (Tapping makes them think you’re a hungry seagull and should make all the live ones close.) Discard any that stay open.
Put the cleaned mussels into a fresh bowl of cold salted water and let them sit in the fridge for an hour or so. This will encourage them to spit out any grit and sand. Some cooks add a tablespoon of flour to the water, too, to feed them. Drain when ready to cook.
Discard any mussels that stay closed after cooking. This means they weren’t alive to start with and should not be eaten. They won’t affect the edibility of the rest of the mussels in the pot.