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The Charleston Gazette, W.Va., Julie Robinson column: Spicy fish stew made daily at Joe's
[January 27, 2010]

The Charleston Gazette, W.Va., Julie Robinson column: Spicy fish stew made daily at Joe's


Jan 27, 2010 (The Charleston Gazette - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Some customers ask for Portuguese fish stew. Others call it Hungarian stew.

It's actually Yugoslavian Fish Stew, but Joe and Robin Harmon usually don't bother to correct the customers. They know they're referring to the spicy tomato and seafood stew that Robin's been making for 26 years.

The Harmon brothers own Joe's Fish Market, on the corner of Quarrier and Brooks streets, where Robin makes and sells the stew. He started making it when he was a cook at General Seafood before the downtown restaurant burned down. He was looking for a way to use some of the bits and pieces of seafood that were perfectly good, but not picture perfect, like the end pieces of a fish or a shrimp mutilated by a careless peeler.



He found a recipe for Dalmatian Fish Stew in an old cookbook, but eventually changed the name because most people didn't know where the Dalmatian Coast is. The original recipe called for live clams and mussels, but today Robin uses only shrimp, scallops, fish and occasionally calamari for the stew.

It took a while for the aromatic stew to catch on when he first made it, but it's wildly popular today.


"People around here have grown up on it," said Robin. "Some people come in and just buy the base, then add their own seafood. We have customers in Richmond and Lexington who stop by to pick it up when they're in town." Although he'll share the recipe with anyone who asks -- and with today's readers -- Robin's the only one who makes it at Joe's. "Nobody wants anyone to make it but me," he said. When he goes out of town, he makes enough base to last during his absence. All that remains is to add water to the base, simmer it and add fresh seafood.

Fresh is key at Joe's. The place doesn't even have a freezer. Shipments arrive Monday night through Friday. They're closed on Sunday and Monday because Friday's delivery wouldn't stay fresh that long.

Robin makes the stew daily, sometimes twice a day. He gets a little tired of making it, but he still eats it. "It's best right when it's done," he said.

They sell 20 quarts a day on average, but sold 70 quarts on a recent Friday. During the Christmas holiday season, they stopped taking orders for it because they couldn't keep up with the demand. It's much in demand on Fridays during Lent.

Robin's version of Yugoslavian Stew's recipe exists only in his mind, but he attempted to pin down ingredient measurements as he made the stew while I watched. "There's really not that much to it," he said.

He starts by sweating diced onions in olive oil, then adding celery and minced garlic. He adds spices and chicken broth, and then simmers it to concentrate the flavor. He opens industrial-sized cans of tomatoes and tomato sauce to pour into the aromatic mixture.

As that simmers, he pours in hefty slugs of Worcestershire, Tabasco and Red Hot sauces from their gallon-sized bottles. He used to make it spicier. "When I was younger, I made it hotter. I love it hot," he said. "You can add sour cream or some heavy cream to tone it down." He finishes the base with a bit of sugar and granulated garlic.

Robin pours out about 6 quarts of base and adds 1 quart of water and simmers the soup until it is the right consistency. He removes the pan from the heat and adds shrimp, scallops and fish to the mixture. He uses salmon and tilapia for this batch, but will use whatever firm fish is available.

"You have to turn off the heat when you add the seafood," he said. "Overcooking is the biggest crime in seafood preparation." His daily recipe makes about 8 gallons of base, to which he adds water and seafood for individual portions. I owe a big thank you to Dwight Morgan, senior lab technician at Tasty Blend Foods Inc. in Putnam County, who cut the recipe into an eighth, which should make about one gallon of soup base. The "2 big handfuls of parsley" didn't convert easily, so he estimated the parsley to be 4 tablespoons.

Thanks for your help with that troublesome math, Dwight.

Joe's Fish Market is open Tuesday through Saturday. Call 304-342-7827.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.

Sweating vs. sauteing Robin Harmon "sweats" the onions for his stew recipe. Is sweating the same as sauteing, we wondered? No, it turns out. They are two different techniques, as defined at the Web site whatscookingAmerica.net.

Sweat: Sweating is the process of releasing flavors with moisture and low temperatures. Fat, in this case, is used just to hold the nonvolatile flavors as they're released from the onion. No browning takes place. The pan is covered so the lid traps steam, which condenses and drips back on to the onions. Some cooks cover the onions directly with a piece of foil or parchment, then add a lid as well.

Sauteing: Sauteing uses a small amount of fat, and it's done in an uncovered pan. As fat reaches higher temperatures than water, cooking usually occurs quickly, and you can easily see the onions become translucent as they move from raw to cooked.

Yugoslavian Fish Stew -- home version Makes 1 gallon 3 tablespoons olive oil 1/3 large onion, coarsely chopped 2 individual stalks celery, chopped 2 1/2 cloves garlic, minced 1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley 1 tablespoon oregano 1 tablespoon basil 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper 3/4 teaspoon white pepper 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 cup chicken broth, white wine or beer 2 cans (28-ounce) diced tomatoes 1 can (15-ounce) tomato sauce 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 2 1/4 teaspoons Tabasco sauce 1 1/2 tablespoons Red Hot Sauce 1 tablespoon sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic 1/2 cup water Shrimp, scallops, calamari and various firm fish pieces to taste HEAT olive oil in large soup pot over medium heat.

SWEAT onions and cook them for about 5 minutes.

ADD celery and garlic and saute for 2 minutes ADD chicken broth to pan and simmer 15 to 20 minutes to reduce.

ADD tomatoes and tomato sauce to pan and cook 15 to 20 minutes more.

ADD Worcestershire, Tabasco and Red Hot sauces.

ADD sugar and granulated garlic.

ADD 1 pint of water and simmer until soup reaches desired consistency.

REMOVE pan from heat and stir in shrimp, scallops, calamari and fish chunks.

Yugoslavian Fish Stew -- original version Makes 8 gallons 1/2 cup olive oil 3 large onions, coarsely chopped 1 1/2 stalks (not individual stalks) celery, chopped 2 large or 3 small heads garlic (about 20 cloves), minced 2 big handfuls dried parsley 4 ounces oregano 4 ounces basil 2 ounces black pepper 1 ounce white pepper 1 ounce cayenne pepper 1/2 gallon chicken broth, white wine or beer 4 No. 10 cans (industrial size) diced tomatoes 1 No. 10 can tomato sauce 4 ounces Worcestershire sauce 3 ounces Tabasco sauce 6 ounces Red Hot Sauce 1 cup sugar 2 ounces granulated garlic 1 quart water Shrimp, scallops, calamari and various firm fish pieces to taste.

HEAT olive oil in large soup pot over medium heat.

SWEAT onions and cook them for about 5 minutes.

ADD celery and garlic and saute for 2 minutes ADD chicken broth to pan and simmer 15 to 20 minutes to reduce.

ADD tomatoes and tomato sauce to pan and cook 15 to 20 minutes more.

ADD Worcestershire, Tabasco and Red Hot sauces.

ADD sugar and granulated garlic. Simmer.

TO MAKE about 2 gallons of soup, remove 6 quarts of soup base, add 1 quart of water and simmer until it reaches desired consistency.

REMOVE pan from heat and stir in shrimp, scallops and fish chunks.

To see more of The Charleston Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wvgazette.com. Copyright (c) 2010, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.

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