Julia Busuttil Nishimura's seafood all'acqua pazza

Seafood all'acqua pazza (cooked in "crazy water").
Seafood all'acqua pazza (cooked in "crazy water"). Photo: William Meppem

Fish cooked in "crazy water" is one of my favourite dishes, especially during the warmer months since it's quick to make, which means less time at the stove (and more time outside). You're also rewarded with a beautifully aromatic broth and perfectly cooked fish without too much effort. The seafood doesn't require much cooking, so stay close to the pan. I like to serve this with some cooked fregola* which soaks up all the brothy goodness. Grilled sourdough also works well.


60ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

1 small fennel bulb, halved, core removed and thinly sliced, fronds reserved

3 flat-leaf parsley stalks

½ tsp dried chilli flakes

sea salt

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

300g cherry tomatoes, halved

3 sprigs marjoram or oregano

200ml dry white wine

250ml water

350g mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

350g whole king prawns

250g calamari, cleaned and cut into 1cm rings

350g snapper fillets, skin on, pin boned, cut into 5cm pieces

large handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

grilled sourdough bread or cooked fregola* (optional), to serve


1. Warm the oil in a large, deep, lidded frying pan over a medium heat. Gently fry the fennel with the parsley stalks, chilli and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until the fennel has softened. Add the garlic, tomatoes, marjoram or oregano and cook until the tomatoes have collapsed and the garlic is soft, about 3-4 minutes. Increase the heat to high and pour in the wine, letting it simmer for a minute. Add the water. Simmer for 2-3 minutes or until slightly reduced.

2. Nestle in the mussels, cover with a lid and cook for 2 minutes. Add the prawns and calamari and cook for a further minute. Gently add the snapper and cook for 2-3 more minutes or until the seafood is cooked and the mussels are open (discard any that remain closed).

3. Scatter with the chopped parsley and reserved fennel fronds. Serve with plenty of grilled bread drizzled with olive oil, and the cooked fregola, spooned into the bottom of each bowl, if using.

Tip: While I often cook a whole snapper this way, I also love poaching a mixture of seafood: here, I've used mussels, prawns, calamari and snapper fillets, but feel free to use whatever seafood you prefer. Other fish, such as John Dory or sea bream, can be used instead of the snapper.

*a small Sardinian semolina pasta rolled by hand and toasted.