BY TRAVIS MITCHELL
Rob Campbell, executive chef at BlackSalt, grew up in Colorado, but he has an affinity for Southern cooking. Inspired by a culinary trip to Charleston, Campbell introduced a Low Country seafood stew to Jeff Black’s Palisades seafood kitchen and fish market, located at 4883 MacArthur Boulevard. The dinner entrée is particularly suited for chasing away the cold on winter nights.
While seafood is clearly the star of the dish, Campbell traces its origin to what he calls a “mild obsession” with smoked ham hocks.
“I’m the type of chef that seizes on an ingredient and tries to learn about it and squeeze every drop out of it,” he says.
The dish is also something new for the BlackSalt menu, and that’s no accident.
“It’s always important if you take over to try to get some different things in there to make people realize there’s someone different at the helm,” says Campbell, who assumed the restaurant’s executive chef position last August after several years as the executive sous chef.
Campbell shares his recipe below, which he says can be adapted to include whatever fresh fish or seafood you have available. What’s most important, he says, is taking the time to make the initial broth.
“Once you have this wonderful broth, you can almost just put anything in there you want.”
BlackSalt’s Low Country Seafood Stew
Yield: 4 quarts
To make the broth:
- 4 smoked ham hocks (8 oz. each)
- 1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 10 cups chicken stock
- 3 cups tomato juice
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
In a heavy bottomed stock pot, sauté vegetables in vegetable oil or bacon fat at medium high heat until translucent, about five minutes. Add ham hocks, thyme and spices. Continue to sauté for five minutes more until the spices are fragrant. Add stock and tomato juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook until ham hock meat is falling from the bone, two to three hours. Skim the fat from the surface with a ladle while simmering (this will have to be done several times throughout the cooking time). Once the hocks are ready, strain the stock through a fine strainer (cheesecloth is preferred). Set aside the ham hocks. Pick the usable meat from the hocks, discarding the skin, fat and bones.
To make the finished stew:
- 4 head-on prawns
- 4 Gulf shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 4 large sea scallops
- 8 shucked oysters (meats only)
- 20 blueshell mussels, washed and debearded
- 2 cups cooked Carolina Gold rice
- 2 cups braised collard greens (braise with onion, garlic, chili flakes, apple cider vinegar and chicken stock)
Season the scallops, shrimp and prawns with salt and pepper. Heat a large sauté pan or rondeau. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil (not extra virgin olive oil) until very hot. Quickly sear the shrimp, prawns and scallops on both sides just to color the exterior, about a minute on each side. Set aside. Add mussels to hot pan. Deglaze with ham hock broth. Bring to a simmer. When the mussels begin to open, add cooked rice, collards, ham hock meat and all remaining seafood. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (A dash of Tabasco never hurts.) When the shrimp are firm and curled, divide the broth and rice into four large bowls, setting the seafood on top. Serve with warm corn bread.