1 pound cleaned squid or 1-1/2 pounds uncleaned
1 large white onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
1-1/2 pounds (3 medium-large round or 9 to 12 plum) ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped OR one 28-ounce can good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
1 to 2 large sprigs fresh epazote (or a small handful of fresh cilantro or parsley sprigs, if no epazote is at hand)
2 to 3 dried árbol chiles, stemmed, seeded and broken into small pieces
6 medium (about 1-1/2 pounds) boiling potatoes (such as red-skins), scrubbed and quartered
1 pound (about 24) medium-large shrimp
1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets (for best flavor and nice large flakes of fish in the stew, choose meaty or large-flake fish such as grouper, snapper, halibut, catfish, sea bass or the like), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 to 3 limes, cut into wedges
The Squid and Broth: If the squid is frozen, defrost it in the refrigerator (allow 24 hours) or under dribbling cold water (it’ll take about 45 minutes). If the squid has not been cleaned, clean each one as follows: Grasp the head/tentacles firmly in one hand, the body in the other, and gently but firmly pull the two sections apart. The innards, including the ink sac, will come out connected to the head. Cut the head away and discard everything above the point where the tentacles come together. In the body cavity, feel for the hard quill. Grasp the body firmly as you pull it out. Rinse the body cavity and tentacles well. Cut the bodies into 1-inch sections and cut the tentacles in half if they are large.
Place the squid in a medium (4- to 5-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), measure in 2 quarts of water and add half of the onion and half of the garlic. Add the bay leaves and bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the liquid at a very gently roll. Cook until the squid is thoroughly tender, about 25 minutes. Strain, reserving the solids (discard the bay leaves). Measure the liquid. You should have about 6 cups (if you have too little, add water; if too much, either pour off the excess or quickly boil the whole thing down to 6 cups). Wipe out the pot and set aside.
The Flavored Stew Base: In a blender or food processor, combine the remaining onion and garlic with the tomatoes and process to a smooth puree. Add the oil to the pot and heat over medium-high. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle sharply, add it all at once and stir continually until darker in color and cooked down to the consistency of tomato paste, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the squid broth, epazote (or its stand-in) and chiles. Taste and season generously with salt, usually about 1-1/2 teaspoons.
Add the potatoes, partially cover the pot and simmer over medium to medium-low heat until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Finishing the Stew: While the potatoes are cooking, peel the shrimp, leaving their final joint and tails intact. Devein each shrimp by making a shallow incision down the back and scraping out the dark (usually) vein-like intestinal tract.
When the potatoes are tender, raise the heat a little under the pot and add the fish cubes. Partially cover the pot, and when the broth returns to a gentle boil, set the timer for 3 minutes. When the timer rings, uncover the pot and add the squid (and any onions and garlic clinging to them) and shrimp. Set the lid in place, turn off the heat and let stand for 3 to 4 minutes to gently finish the cooking. (If the shrimp are large and refrigerator-cold, let cook for 1 minute before turning off the heat.) I like the rustic nature of the epazote floating in the soup; if you don’t, fish it out.
Ladle the soup into deep bowls, and you’re ready to present your guests with an aromatic treat, accompanied by lime wedges for each to squeeze in to his or her liking.
Working Ahead: The squid and broth can be made several days in advance; refrigerate separately, covered tightly. The stew base – minus the potatoes – actually improves in flavor if made several hours (or up to a day) in advance.
Excerpted from Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures by Rick Bayless, Deann Groen Bayless and Lanie Bayless (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004). © 2004 by Rick Bayless.
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