Matelote (Fish Stew)

January 26, 2022
4 Ratings
Photo by Melina Hammer
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Think of this as a romantic dish, because it is. Matelote is made from freshwater fish local to towns in Alsace, France, cooked in wine from the same region. There’s cognac and pancetta and a cornucopia of seafood, all served up in a buttery, boozy broth. Unless you live on a lake or river, however, chances are you’re unlikely to come across much freshwater fish. This recipe adapts matelote to use today’s more commonly available mussels, shrimp, and fish from the sea. Don’t worry about the combination—choose whatever is freshest when you shop, and it’ll turn out delicious. Poaching each fish on its own sidesteps the risk of any overcooking. Most often Riesling is the wine of choice, but sometimes, for a heartier stew, red wine such as Pinot Noir is used in its place. Beurre manié—literally translated as “kneaded butter”—thickens like a roux, but because the flour particles are suspended in the butter, all you need to do is pop it in the stew at the end and stir. Served in a welcoming pot, this is a perfect dish for a winter weekend supper. Ladle into shallow bowls and serve with bread or noodles. —Melina Hammer

What You'll Need
  • 14 to 16 ounces peeled or unpeeled pearl onions, fresh or frozen and thawed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for sautéing
  • 5 ounces pancetta, cut into lardons (about 1 cup)
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, halved
  • 1/4 cup cognac
  • 3 cups fish or seafood stock
  • 7 black peppercorns
  • 5 (2-inch) parsley stems
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 clove
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry Riesling
  • 20 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 8 ounces skin-on halibut (or monkfish), sliced into hearty chunks
  • 8 ounces skin-on sea bass (or perch), sliced into hearty chunks
  • 8 ounces Arctic char (or salmon), sliced into hearty chunks
  • 12 to 15 U/20 shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon leaves
  • Toasted baguette or sourdough, or cooked long noodles
  1. If your onions are not peeled, bring a small pot of water to boil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Drain them in a colander and run under cold water until cool enough to handle. Peel. (If your onions are thawed from frozen and already peeled, skip this skip.)
  2. In a wide pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, add a big drizzle of oil and cook the pancetta until crispy, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a large bowl.
  3. Add the onions to the same pan, agitating the pan to coat them in the hot fat (you can add another drizzle of oil if the pan looks dry). Sauté over medium-low until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the mushrooms and agitate the pan again. Over medium, sauté the mushrooms until golden and soft, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the cognac and reduce almost completely, about 1 minute. Transfer the onions, mushrooms, and any remaining liquid to the bowl of pancetta.
  6. Add the stock to the pot and stir any liquor residue into the stock. Raise the heat to medium.
  7. While that heats up, wrap the peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, garlic clove, and clove in a piece of muslin (or extra-fine cheesecloth) and secure with kitchen twine. Add this bouquet garni to the stock, along with ½ teaspoon salt and the wine. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  8. Add the mussels, agitate the pan so they settle into an even later, cover the pot, and lower the heat to medium-high. After about 5 minutes, their shells should have opened. Use a slotted spoon to strain and transfer them to a large bowl. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.
  9. Add the pancetta, onions, and mushrooms, plus any accumulated juices to the stock mixture and return to a gentle simmer. Add the halibut and poach for 3 minutes, until the flesh turns fully opaque, lowering the heat as needed so the mixture barely bubbles, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the halibut to the bowl with mussels. Add the sea bass and poach for 2 minutes, until opaque everywhere but in the middle, then transfer to the bowl with mussels. Add the Arctic char and poach for 2 minutes, until opaque everywhere but in the middle, then transfer to the bowl with mussels. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until nearly opaque in the center, then transfer to the bowl with the mussels.
  10. In a small bowl, use a spoon to mash the flour into the butter until fully incorporated—it will resemble a thick paste. Add to the pot and stir regularly for 5 to 7 minutes, until the broth is somewhat thickened.
  11. Taste and adjust the salt as needed. Gently add back all of the fish, mussels, and shrimp and stir to incorporate. Ladle into wide shallow bowls and sprinkle with parsley and tarragon. Serve with bread for mopping up the sauce, or over noodles.

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  • Melina Hammer
    Melina Hammer
  • Kristen
Melina is the author of 'A Year at Catbird Cottage' with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.

2 Reviews

Kristen January 30, 2022
I made this tonight and it is amazing! I even had to make a stand in seafood stock with vegetable stock simmered with shrimp shells for a while, and it was great. I didn't trust that the Rieslings in my grocery store were dry, so I used an inexpensive Pinot Gris. The broth is sensational with sourdough bread.
Melina H. January 31, 2022
Kristen, this was so lovely to read. Thank you! I've made the fumé/stock exactly as you did, and it works great. Glad that the Pinot Gris worked for you. If you happen to stumble on a good wine shop pick up a dry Riesling for whenever you make this again - it's so dang delicious ;)