Recipe Sleuth: The Majestic’s Chesapeake Bay Stew

Use the bounty of our nearby waters to make this seafood-heavy stew, a take on a traditional bouillabaisse. It takes some time, but the flavorful result is worth the effort.

When chef Shannon Overmiller arrived at Restaurant Eve in 2005 to work under chef/owner Cathal Armstrong, one of the first dishes she learned to make was bouillabaisse, a traditional French shellfish stew. A couple years later, when Overmiller became head chef at sibling restaurant the Majestic, she made a few tweaks to the recipe, taking inspiration from the Chesapeake Bay and adding blue crab and Old Bay aïoli.

Overmiller’s Chesapeake Bay stew is a mainstay on the menu and a customer favorite. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it,” said the reader who wrote in to request the recipe.

The recipe takes quite a bit of time, preparation, and patience, but Overmiller says it’s worth it. “Make sure your stock is flavorful,” says Overmiller. “Taste, adjust, and don’t overcook your seafood.” If you’re looking for ingredient substitutions or additions, conch, calamari, and lobster all work well.

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Majestic’s Chesapeake Bay Stew

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Make the saffron broth:

10 pounds fish bones (white fish only)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, chopped and cleaned
2 garlic bulbs, split
2 medium onions, chopped
2 fennel bulbs, chopped
6 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 cups tomato paste
2 teaspoons saffron
2 bay leaves
2 cups white wine
1 gallon cold water
2 lemons, split
15 basil leaves

Chop up the fish bones. Clean them with cold water and strain; repeat three times. Set aside.

Add the extra-virgin olive oil to an extra-large pot over medium heat and sauté the leeks, garlic, onions, fennel, celery, and carrots. Season with the salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and sauté. Add the saffron and bay leaves. Add the fish bones. Deglaze with white wine and reduce by half. Top with a gallon of cold water. Bring the broth to a boil. Skim the impurities and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes. Add the lemon and basil. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the remnants. Set aside.

Make the aïoli:

3 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 cups chopped garlic
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups canola oil
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons salt

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, yolks, and garlic on high for 10 minutes, until the mixture is almost white. Slowly add the extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil (keep the mixer running). Carefully add the lemon juice, making sure to not thin out or break the aïoli.  Season with salt. Add more lemon juice if needed. Set aside.

Prepare the vegetables:

2 large fennel bulbs, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for sautéeing), plus more for drizzling over the onions
2 small leeks, ½-inch diced  
5 celery stalks
20 to 25 pearl onions
4 tomatoes
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a sauté pan or pot set over medium heat, add the fennel, 1 bay leaf, and extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Slowly cook until the fennel is tender but not mushy. Strain the fennel, keeping the oil in the pan, and let cool. Repeat this with the leeks and celery, reusing the oil for each (after, save the oil for the next step of the recipe). Add a new bay leaf and check seasoning. Season the pearl onions with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until soft. Set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Roast the tomatoes for about 2½ hours. Set aside.

Make the stew:

Make each stew individually—these measurements are for 1 serving (total measurements for 8 servings are in parentheses). Repeat as needed.  

Olive oil from recipe above
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons total for 8 servings)
1 tablespoon chopped shallots (½ cup chopped shallots for 8 servings)
1 tablespoon braised fennel (from recipe above; ½ cup for 8 servings)    
1 tablespoon braised leeks (½ cup for 8 servings)
1 tablespoon braised celery  (½ cup for 8 servings)
2 tablespoons roasted tomatoes  (1 cup for 8 servings)
½ medium potato, cut into small chunks (4 potatoes for 8 servings)
1 tablespoons roasted pearl onions (½ cup for 8 servings)
4  cups saffron broth (2 gallons for 8 servings)
2 clams (16 clams for 8 servings)
4 mussels, preferably Bouchot (32 mussels for 8 servings)
4 shrimp, peeled and deveined (32 shrimp for 8 servings)
1 tablespoon blue crab (1/2 cup for 8 servings)
1 U-10 scallop (cut into 4 pieces) (8 scallops for 8 servings)
5 1-inch-square pieces halibut or similar white fish (40 1-inch pieces for 8 servings)
1 teaspoon Old Bay (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons for 8 servings)
1⁄3 lemon, juiced (2 2⁄3 lemons for 8 servings)
1 tablespoon basil, shredded (½ cup for 8 servings)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium heat add the infused olive oil, garlic, and shallot. Add the braised fennel, leeks, celery, and roasted tomato. Add the raw potatoes and roasted onions. Pour in 2 cups of saffron broth. Add the clams and allow to almost open, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add 2 more cups of saffron broth and let reduce slightly, then add the rest of the seafood (mussels, shrimp, blue crab, scallops, fish) and Old Bay. Simmer until the mussels start to just pull away from both the sides of their shells and the other seafood is just losing its transparency. Adjust consistency with stock if necessary. Finish the stew with lemon juice and basil.

Make the toasted croutons:

1 baguette, sliced diagonally
8 to 10 cloves garlic  (chopped or left whole)
Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
Old Bay to taste
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rub each slice of baguette with a bit of raw garlic. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Old Bay. Roast on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 10 minutes or until crispy.

Assemble the dish:

Extra-virgin olive oil to taste
Old Bay to taste
Basil leaf, for garnish

Spoon about 1 cup of stew into a serving bowl. Garnish with 1 tablespoon aïoli. Sprinkle with a touch of Old Bay. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil to taste and add a toasted crouton. Garnish with a basil leaf if desired.

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