Zarzuela de Mariscos – Something to Sing for

The first snowfall arrived in the mountains of Spain recently. With that in mind, many indoor cultural events of the season take place, despite this year’s coronavirus.

One such event is the Zarzuela (operetta). Spaniards have made it a point to view this form of the unique musical, theatrical event since the 17th century.

Some historians believe that the first-ever author of zarzuela librettos was Pedro Calderón de la Barca. In 1657, King Philip IV of Spain, Queen Mariana and their court attended the first performance of this zarzuela composer. His famous works included La púrpura de la rosa (The Purple of the Rose) or El laurel de Apolo (The Laurels of Apollo).

Now you may be wondering, what this history of Spanish operetta has to do with food? Surmising the residents of Spain, nothing can be more of a compliment than to name this lavished but simply stage production for a recipe.

Zarzuela de Mariscos is considered a three-act production because of the variety of ingredients placed into the traditional Spanish earthenware. At home, you can create this delicate dish in a large stewing pot.

This dish is similar to the French city of Marseille’s version of bouillabaisse. However, it is heartier due to bolder flavours, such as almonds and saffron.

This popular winter dish can be found on menus along the shorelines throughout Spain once the temperature drops. Guests and family members will soon be singing nothing but praises when served in your household.

On a personal note: I love serving this dish on Christmas Eve with a large bread that is ideal to dunk in the broth.

Happy holidays and Buen Aproveche!


  • 4 servings each of 3 to 4 different types of fish/seafood (for example: a meaty one such as angler or lobster; a flaky fish such as bass or grouper; and a delicate fish, such as hake or sole)

  • 1 lb. mussels (cleaned and scrubbed, steamed open and half shells – discard the other half)

  • 1 lb. clams (cleaned and scrubbed, steamed open and half shells – discard the other half but retain the liquid by straining)

  • 8 jumbo shrimp (deveined and cleaned)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 large onion minced

  • 1 scallion minced

  • 2 small red, green or yellow bell peppers diced

  • 3-5 cloves garlic minced

  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup blanched and toasted almonds (place in food processor, if purchased toasted)

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons parsley

  • A pinch of saffron

  • Dash of cayenne

  • Salt and pepper – to taste

  • 1/4 cup sherry or white wine

  • 1/4 cup brandy or rum

  • 3 cups water or stock

  • Lemon wedges on the side when served


  1. Clean and prepare your fish and shellfish as directed above. Set aside.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high flame.

  3. Add the onions, scallions, peppers and garlic and sauté until onion turns translucent, 4-5 minutes.

  4. Stir in the tomatoes, ground almonds, bay leaf, saffron, cayenne, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes and boil off some of the liquid.

  5. Add the wine, brandy, etc. and simmer to reduce the liquid approximately in half. Add the water or stock and parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 more minutes.

  6. Place in the fish and seafood. Cover with a lid and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until everything is cooked through.

  7. Do not overcook. Adjust seasoning to taste.

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