You just can’t make a bad Cioppino.
Cioppino is probably the most flexible fish stew on earth. And it packs a wonderful punch of flavor in every bite. It tastes of the sea itself. And then there’s the richness of tomatoes, the anise flavor of fennel, and the bite-sized pieces of seafood brightened with a dash of fresh lemon juice. It’s hard to beat a great Cioppino.
Cioppino is an amazingly adaptable dish.
My mother adored Cioppino, with its roots in the Italian North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. If you knew my mother, you knew cooking was not her thing. But if it was an easy recipe, one requiring as little time and attention as possible, my Mother would latch onto it with a religious fervor. So it was with the amazingly adaptable Cioppino. Most recipes do call for crab and some for squid, mussels, and shrimp. But as long as you choose some firm fish and add some shellfish, your Cioppino will almost surely pass muster with a native San Franciscan.
The original Cioppino is said to have appeared in the late 1800s.
Initially cooked aboard the fishing boats while at sea, Cioppino’s name is derived from the Genovese dialect’s word for chopped or to chop, “Ciuppin”. Later, it came ashore. It is a specialty at its eponymously named restaurant, Cioppino’s (400 Jefferson St. San Francisco CA Tel: (415) 775-9311. There, a tale was spread that cooks coming to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s wharf asked the fisherman to ‘chip in’ some of their catch for the communal soup pot. In heavily Italian accents, to this American slang was added an ‘o’ as in ‘chip-in-o’. What’s great about this folklore is that it basically allows you to use whatever fish you want. The only ingredient that absolutely must be included is, in fact, the tomato which flavors its broth.
And now the recipe…
My Mother’s Cioppino didn’t contain any shellfish at all. But we lived well inland most of the year and didn’t have access to the wealth of clams, cockles, and mussels that we have here on the coast. I kept my recipe down to three kinds of seafood – cod, littleneck clams, and shrimp. Please feel free to add scallops to this dish for a fourth component. Here’s the recipe. It serves 4 but I halved it for just the two of us and the whole thing from start to finish takes an hour and fifteen minutes, forty-five of which are spent just watching the broth simmer. No wonder my mother couldn’t make it often enough. And after it some other seafood soups and stews to try.
Cioppino Seafood Stew
With the richness of tomatoes, the anise flavor of fennel, and the bite-sized pieces of seafood brightened with a dash of fresh lemon juice, it’s hard to beat a great Cioppino.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 Fennel Bulb, top removed, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 4 cups canned chopped tomatoes, undrained
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced
- 1 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/3 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 1/2 pound sea scallops
- 1 pound firm white fish, cut into 1-inch pieces (suggested: cod, halibut, striped bass, red snapper, monkfish)
- 24 small clams in the shell, scrubbed
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
- Crusty bread, for serving
- Step 1 In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, fennel, and garlic. Cook for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.
- Step 2 Add the undrained tomatoes, roasted peppers, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Pour in wine and beef stock. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the clam juice and continue cooking uncovered for 5 minutes.
- Step 3 Stir in shrimp and fish pieces and cook for 5 minutes. Add clams. Cook for 5 more minutes and discard any unopened clams. Stir in lemon juice. Ladle into bowls sprinkle with parsley and serve with crusty bread.