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Ttoro - Basque Peppery Stew

Like Cioppino or all fish stews, Ttoro from the Basque country was originally designed to use flaky inexpensive fish with too many bones, such as hake, conger, mullet and particularly gurnard, valued for its red skin. At its simplest, Ttoro includes garlic, tomatoes, mussels for a salty bite, and the lovely Espelette pepper of Basque region. As a final fillip, this particular recipe is green with fresh herbs and has a whole langoustine perched on top of each serving plate, as if trying to claw its way out.

Ttoro - Basque Peppery Stew


  • 450 g fresh heads and bones
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (vegetable oil)
  • 2 onions (sliced)
  • 3 garlic cloves (chopped)
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 375 ml medium-dry white wine
  • 1,5 l water
  • 1 large tomato (peeled, seeded, chopped)
  • 1 large roasted red bell pepper (peeled, seeded, finely chopped)
  • 2 tsp ground dried espelette pepper (or 2 tsp ground paprika with large pinch of cayenne pepper, more to taste)
  • 1 tsp sugar (optionally)


  • 675 g mussels (clams)
  • 675 g mixed fish fillets with skin
  • 30 g flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp olive oil (vegetable oil)
  • 4 large scampi (langoustines) with heads


  • Fried crou’tes made with a baguette, sliced, fried in 4 to 5 tbsp olive oil, and rubbed with a cut garlic clove
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley (dill)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • For the broth, cut the gills put of fish heads (they can make the broth bitter). Rinse the heads and bones, and cut the bones into 2 or 3 pieces.
  • Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole over low heat. Add the onions, celery, garlic, and bouquet garni and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the wine, increase the heat, and boil until reduced by half, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the water, fish heads, bones, tomato, roasted pepper, espelette pepper and salt. Bring to boil, skim the surface, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 40-50 minutes.
  • Strain the liquid and discard the solids. There should be about 1, 5 liters broth.
  • Make the crou’tes and reserve for garnish. For the sea food, clean mussels. Cut the fish into 3-4 cm chunks, wash and dry. Coat the fish pieces with the seasoned flour, patting off excess with your hands. Heat the oil in the casserole over high heat. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the fish and brown quickly on all sides, transferring in to a plate with a draining spoon. When the last batch has been fried, discard any excess oil in the pot.
  • Return the fish to the pot pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the scampi, pushing then down into the broth, and set the mussels on top. Cover and simmer just until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. The fish should just flake easily when tested with fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning. The broth should be quite peppery, but salt may not be needed, as mussels are salty.
  • Lift out the scampi and set aside. Spoon the fish, mussels, and broth into warmed bowls and sprinkle with parsley, and chives. Add scampi to each bowl. Arrange some of the crou’tes around the edge of each bowl and serve the rest separately.

The broth may be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate. In the United Stated, I would suggest a mix of red snapper, jack, bread, pampano. Fish such as eel, which cook more slowly than others, should be cut into smaller piece.

Adapted from A. Willan “ Country cooking of France” (Slightly modified to my own taste).