Karl’s Ttoro, Basque Fish Stew

Chris threw down a Basque seafood stew challenge for the new year. In researching the possibilities I found two stews: Marmitako and Ttoro. Marmitako is a tuna and potato dish and Chris is back on his low-carb diet after the holidays. I think Ttoro is more of what he had in mind.

Karl’s Ttoro, Basque Fish Stew

Karl’s Ttoro, Basque Fish Stew

Most of the posted recipes seem to be by French chefs—something about most of them being written in French. I suspect that they have been altered to the rules of French taste and techniques. “Real” fishermen use whatever they have—whether fish, vegetable or herbs—and do not worry about rules. I plan to adjust this recipe to my own tastes, following the rule: “What would a Basque fisherman do?” (WWABFD?)

To make Ttoro, you first make a rich fish/vegetable broth and then poach the seafood in the broth at the last minute. What makes this dish Basque, rather than a French bouillabaisse, is the addition of Piment d’Espelette.

Tip: If you cannot find espelette pepper, you may substitute with an equal amount of un-smoked hot paprika with an added pinch of cayenne.

Note: For most dishes you can substitute most of the ingredients, but substituting a critical spice is hazardous. For example, if you substituted regular pepper for Sichuan pepper the dish might taste good, but it would not be Sichuan. I thought I was going to have to take just such a risk, but as I was writing up the recipe I found that Sur la Table, in San Jose, had it in stock. They generally do not carry many spices, but they carried both Piment d’Espelette and Pimintón, the smoked hot paprika crucial to many other Basque/Spanish dishes.

Most fisherman’s stew’s start out being made from the fish that the landsmen won’t buy—as too ugly or just plain strange. It is only when the chef’s discover what they have been missing that they try to put rules on it. The common fish for Ttoro are hake (white flaky flesh), monkfish (white firm flesh), and rascasse (a redfish in the same family as ocean perch). A purist might say that it is not Ttoro if it is not made with these fish. I am not a purist—following the WWABFD rule, I am substituting cod, oro and rock fish which have similar tastes and textures.

Mussels and langoustine are also usually included in Ttoro. I am substituting these with California mussels and shrimp. Whole foods also had some large little neck clams that I could not resist throwing in.

Tip: This turned out to be a mistake. They were very large, took a long time to steam, and after cooking were very tough. They would have been better chopped up for a clam chowder. Use only small clams in a fish stew.

There seems to be little agreement about which vegetables go into making the fish stock for this dish. One recipe says to use only onions, leeks and tomatoes. While others call for the additions of celery, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, and red and/or green bell peppers. This is a fish stew, not a vegetable stew, so I am keeping it simple.

I am doing the same for the handling of the stock after it has been simmered. Many of the recipes call for blending the stock—with the bones and shells still in the broth—and then straining out the solids. I cannot see a real fisherman throwing away the vegetables just to get a clear stock. I finally decided that a fisherman would not bother to blend the vegetables at all. I plan to simmer the vegetables in the fish stock—straining out any solids before I add thevegetables—and stop right there.

Many of the recipes call for using a bouquet garni—a bundle of thyme, bay leaf and parsley. If you are going to add herbs to your dish, add them. Pulling them out before serving—so that they add their “essence,” but do not disrupt the appearance of the dish—is too close to homeopathy for me and not WWABFD.

Ttoro, Basque Fish Stew


4 Tbs. olive oil, separate uses
1 cup onion, diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
2 cups leeks, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. Piment d’Espelette
1 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. black pepper
1 cup tomatoes, diced
½ cup roasted red pepper

32 oz. fish stock
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup parsley, minced, separate uses

½ cup flour
1 lb. cod (hake or another white flaky fish)
½ lb oro (monkfish or another white firm fish)
½ lb. rock fish (rascasse or another flaky fish)
¾ lb. mussels
1 lb. little neck clams (10 large)
½ lb. shrimp

Toasted baguette brushed with garlic olive oil


1. In a large pot sauté the onions and salt in two tablespoons of olive oil, until they are just starting to pick up some color, about ten minutes on a medium high heat.

Note: I am using a commercial fish stock for this soup. If you are making your own buy some fish heads and simmer them for 30 minutes. Strain out the solids and proceed with the recipe.

2. Add the leeks and continue sautéing until soft, about another five minutes.

3. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic to the hole in the center of the pot. Sauté the garlic for one minute, until fragrant.

4. Add the Piment d’Espelette, thyme, bay leaf, and black pepper to the pot and mix them into the vegetables.

5. Add the tomatoes and red peppers. Continue cooking until the tomatoes start to darken, about 5-8 minutes.

Tip: Stir frequently to scrape the tomatoes off of the bottom of the pan. You want a good Maillard reaction, but you do not want to burn the vegetables.

6. Stir in the fish stock and wine. Simmer the stock for 30 minutes.

7. Stir in half of the parsley.

Tip: Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. You do not want anything patches of stuck vegetables that might burn.

8. Spread the flour out onto a plate or shallow pan.

Tip: If necessary cut the fish into large pieces six inches long.

9. Dredge the fish in the flour and fry each piece in the remaining olive oil for one minute per side.

Tip: The point here is to get a bit of crust on each piece of fish and to introduce some flour to thicken the broth of the final stew.

Note: I prefer using a cast iron skillet for this step. Heat the oil until shimmering and sear each piece of fish briefly.

10. Cut the fish pieces into 2 inch chunks and scatter the fish evenly into the broth. Push the fish pieces down into the soup.

Tip: Evenly distribute each kind of fish around the pot, you will not be stirring the pot after you put the fish into it.

11. Scatter the mussels, clams and shrimp over the soup and put the lid on. Turn the heat down to medium low.

12. Leave the pot to simmer, undisturbed, for at least five minutes.

13. Check to see if the shellfish have all opened. If not put the lid back for a few more minutes.

14. When the stew is ready scatter the remaining parsley over all and serve with toasted baguette brushed with garlic olive oil.

Lidia Bastianich’s Toasted Baguette Brushed with Garlic Olive Oil

I was watching Food network a few weeks ago and Lidia Bastianich was arguing against toasting the bread after you put the garlic oil onto it. She felt that when you have the heat high enough to toast the oily bread you destroy the delicate flavor of the oil. Her solution was to toast the bread and then brush on a bit of garlic infused oil. I found that this technique had the added benefit that the bottoms of the toasts remained soft. You ended up with crunchy pieces of bread that were also excellent at soaking up the soup.

Lidia Bastianich’s Toasted Baguette Brushed with Garlic Olive Oil

Lidia Bastianich’s Toasted Baguette
brushed with Garlic Olive Oil


2-3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1-2 baguettes


1. Put the olive oil into a cup and add one crushed clove of garlic.

Tip: Being raw, the garlic can be a bit harsh, but if you brush the oil on just as the bread come out hot from the oven the garlic gets a bit mellowed by the heat of the bread.

2. Slice the baguettes on a steep diagonal.

3. Lay the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet.

4. Broil the baguette slices for 5-10 minutes until golden brown.

5. Brush to toasted sides with the garlic oil and serve.

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Filed under bread, Fish, Main Dishes, Seafood, Shrimp

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