This was one of the first dishes we ever served, back in the old days when MoVida was at the Carron Tavern in West Melbourne. Some people have described it as a Basque bouillabaisse and although it has a lot in common with its French cousin, this is a thicker, more robust and colourful dish topped with seared scampi. Scampi give a deep flavour of the sea but can be substituted with prawns. If using prawns, try to find very large ones — remove the shell but keep the head and tail.
Scrub the mussels with a stiff brush and pull out the hairy beards. Soak the clams in cold water for a couple of hours to remove the grit from inside the shells. Discard any broken mussels or clams, or open mussels or clams that do not close when tapped on the bench. Cut the scampi in half lengthways and rinse in the shell under cold running water. Remove the shell, leaving the head and tail on. Make a shallow cut with a small, very sharp knife along the length of each prawn back. Remove and discard the dark vein.
Increase the heat to high and once bubbling quickly stir in the wine and brandy. Bring to the boil for 1 minute to allow the alcohol to cook off.
Add the fish stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly.
Roughly purée the soup in a blender or food processor and then strain through a coarse sieve, keeping the liquid and discarding the solids.
In a separate saucepan, heat
Working quickly now, heat the remainder of the oil over very high heat in a large frying pan and fry the fish pieces, skin side down, seasoning with a little salt. After 1 minute turn the fish over and add the scampi and prawns. The scampi and prawns should take only 1 minute each side to cook. Remove the scampi and prawns once cooked and set aside. Reduce the heat. The fish should not be fully cooked through, as it needs to cook further in the soup.
Add the mussels and clams to the frying pan. Pour the soup over, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 6 minutes until the mussels and clams open. Discard any unopened mussels and clams. Add the bread and push into the liquid, allowing the bread to swell and soak up the soup. Season to taste. Arrange the fried scampi and prawns on top of the soup, sprinkle over the parsley and fennel and serve immediately.
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