Seafood Pot Au Feu, Aïoli and Massa Sovada

Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter, is considered the true “birthday” of the Christian Church. On this day, Christians believe that the Holy Ghost entered the bodies of Jesus’s apostles and caused them to “speak in tongues.” This event marked the first time (in Christian history) that man communicated directly with God, and to this day, Pentecostalists and members of certain other denominations experience this kind of ecstatic gibberish during their services. There’s some division of opinion on whether speaking in tongues delivers a message to or from God, but either way it’s a divine conversation.

This holiday tasked us a bit more than usual, as there are no official dishes or feasts associated with Pentecost. It’s also celebrated in Catholic countries the world over, which didn’t narrow our choices. But one place where it has a special significance, and an area we haven’t yet visited in our culinary travels, is the Azores, nine volcanic islands 850 miles west of continental Portugal, of which it is an autonomous region. Unlike some Catholic countries, which revere the Virgin Mary or Jesus above all others, the faithful in the Azores venerate the Holy Spirit, which makes their faith especially mystical.

On Pentecost, Azoreans celebrate the Culto do Império do Divino Espírito Santo, or Cult of the Empire of Holy Spirit, a religious subculture unique to this island group and its immigrant diaspora, mostly in Brazil and parts of the U.S. In addition to their special connection with the Holy Ghost, Azoreans also celebrate Pentecost as the day when ships arrived from the Portuguese Queen in Lisbon, bringing food and supplies after the islands, which are sometimes considered Europe’s version of Hawaii, suffered a series of devastating earthquakes in the Middle Ages.

Azorean cuisine, unsurprisingly for a group of islands plunked in the middle of the Atlantic, is seafood-rich. In honor of that, we bring you a fresh, bright-tasting seafood stew, perfect for a spring supper. It involves a fair bit of chopping, but also lots of of flexibility and simple technique. You can vary the vegetables, use salmon rather than white fish fillets, or double the mussels it’s that’s what you like most. And if you can do some prep ahead of time, it easily becomes a weeknight meal. The aioli (or pesto) adds an unctuous richness to the stew’s clean, clear flavors.

Pot au feu outside

Seafood Pot Au Feu

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup of water

1 tsp of finely grated ginger

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper (preferably white)

1 pound small potatoes (yukon gold or new red potatoes work well), scrubbed and quartered

2 carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise, then into 3 inch lengths

1 leek, white and light green part only, cleaned well and sliced lengthwise and then into 3 inch pieces

1/2 lb snow peas, trimmed

4 scallions, cleaned and sliced into quarters, or 2 spring onions, sliced into quarters

4-5 large mushrooms, cleaned and finely sliced

1 lb of mussels, cleaned and debearded

12 sea scallops

1 lb thick white fish fillet or salmon, skinned and cut into 4 equal pieces (slice across one way and then make another, perpendicular cut)

Aioli (recipe follows), or a few spoonfuls of pesto

In a large pot or dutch oven, bring the chicken broth, water, bay leaves and ginger to a boil, then cover, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add  the potatoes and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the carrots, leek, and green onions, cover and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Pot au feu veg horizontal

Add the sliced mushrooms and simmer another 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the vegetables into a large bowl and set aside. With the heat on a low simmer, add the cleaned mussels to the pot, cover and cook for about 3-5 minutes, then remove them to a large bowl. Once they’re cool enough to handle, remove the mussels from the shells, discarding any that fail to open, and add mussels to vegetables in bowl (if you want to skip this step and keep mussels in shells, that’s fine as well). Add the fish to the pot, simmering for about 6 minutes, covered. Add the mussels with any juices from the bowl, scallops, and the rest of the vegetables, including the snow peas. Cook on low for 10 minutes more.

Serve in wide soup bowls, lifting vegetables and seafood out carefully with a slotted spoon, then pouring some broth over the top. If using aioli (or pesto), you can either add to the broth or spoon onto the fish.


Aioli (Garlic Mayonnaise)

One large egg yolk, at room temperature

Several cloves roasted garlic, mashed, or 1 clove fresh garlic, finely minced or grated

¼ tsp dijon mustard

2 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar, or a combination of both


½ cup mild olive oil (if you only have strongly flavored oil, use less olive and more neutral)

¼-½ cup neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed

Combine yolk, mustard, garlic a pinch of salt and lemon juice or vinegar in medium bowl and whisk well to combine. Drop by drop, vigorously whisk in olive oil. In a slow stream, whisk in remaining oil until mixture thickens and resembles mayonnaise (it will likely be slightly looser than commercial mayonnaise, but should be more pudding-like than liquid). Taste for salt, then refrigerate until ready to use.

Massa sovada

Massa Sovada (Portuguese sweet bread)

This egg- and butter-rich bread is a little like brioche or challah, though less finely grained and more rustic.

1 ½ packages dry active yeast

¼ cup lukewarm water

1 cup milk

¼ cup shortening (we used Crisco)

4 tbsp unsalted butter

½ teaspoon salt

5 cups flour

1 cup sugar

Finely grated zest of ½ lemon, preferably organic

4 large eggs, at room temperature

For the egg wash:

1 egg

1 tsp water

Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup lukewarm water, cover with a towel and let rise to double in size. If it does not bubble and foam, discard and buy fresh yeast. In a small saucepan over medium low heat, melt butter and shortening in the milk, then remove from heat and allow it to cool to lukewarm.

Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using fingertips, rub lemon zest into sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together until sugar is dissolved.

Pour egg and sugar into flour and mix together with a sturdy wooden spoon until combined. Add yeast mixture and continue mixing with spoon, switching to kneading with your hands once mixture becomes too stiff. Knead until the dough lifts neatly from bowl, adding more flour if necessary (dough will remain sticky). Cover bowl with a clean dishtowel and let dough rise to double its size, usually 6-8 hours, or overnight.

Punch down, deflating the dough. Form individual bread pieces and put in buttered pans: any shape or size will do, but the dough should fill only half the pan. If you use traditional loaf pans, this will make two large or three smaller loaves. Cover and let rise again until the dough doubles in size, filling the pans, 3 hours or so.

For the egg wash, mix egg together with water, then brush top of dough with mixture.

Bake breads at 325℉ for 30 to 40 minutes (adjust longer cook time for larger loaves). The bread should be golden brown.

When cool enough to handle, tip loaves out of the pans. Slice and eat warm with salted butter, or cool fully and wrap well to store.

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