I recommend making the red sauce a day ahead to meld together the flavors. Cool uncovered, then chill, covered. Bring to a simmer before adding seafood. It will make a big difference!
Cioppino. In Italian it translates to heaven in a bowl. Well, not really. But it is so droolworthy it should translate that way.
Cioppino is the American name for zuppa di pesce, or “soup of the fish.” While you are likely to find local seafood stewed in a tomato-wine broth on any coastal menu in Italy, you’d be hard pressed to find it referred to as cioppino. Its genesis is rooted to the docks of San Francisco where bountiful Italian and Portuguese fishermen would share their booty with those who returned to port with empty nets. While there is some debate over the true origin of the etymology of the name cioppino, I am sticking to my definition: heaven in a bowl.
This fisherman’s stew is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. I save this recipe for crowds (of 6 more more) because of its sheer quantity. By the time you gather a potpourri of fish, you have a full pot. All the more to share with friends, right?
By definition, I think cioppino is supposed to have Dungeness crab (which is sometimes difficult to find on this coast). Crab adds to the overall richness of the dish. Throw in legs or lump crab. Your preference. I found King Crab on sale, so I grabbed it. Use whatever you can find from your fishmonger. Just about any combination will yield a gastronomic delight! Crab + calamari + rock lobster tails + langostinos… Make sure you rinse and debeard any bivalves. If you choose to use fish filets, choose a firm, dense fish such as monkfish, halibut, or mahi. Otherwise, the fish may fall apart. My dad used to call monkfish “poor man’s lobster.” It is DE-LI-CIOUS. Regardless of what variety you choose, you should use about three pounds of fish/shellfish.
That’s is one of the beautiful things about this dish–you can add any or all of your seafood favorites and create your own version of this dish. After all, the original cioppino turned humble donations into a pastiche of perfection. Keep in mind, however, that the sequence in which you add your fish to the stew is important, as some of it will take longer to cook than others.
Before you get all excited and head to the store, I want to give you a heads-up: cioppino is traditionally a hands-on dish. It is full of shellfish that require a bit of tending to. But this messiness is one of its joys, so push up your sleeves and dive right in. You will be elbow-deep in deliciousness. Your guests won’t be afraid to muss up a bit with the promise of warmed, wet hands cloths waiting in the end.
That being said, when you are prepping your meal you can peel your shrimp down to the tails to give them little handles, or you can take the the tails off. I peeled the shrimp completely to make a stock out of the shells. I am a big fan of heads-on, shells-on shrimp for the flavor the shells infuse—I love the look of shrimps with their heads!—but they are also more difficult to eat. I figure that with this dish you are already “working” to eat the crab legs + clams + mussels, so you could give yourself a little break and shell the shrimp. But you do you—whatever blows your skirt up.
The sauce should not overwhelm the seafood. Sweat the garlic, onion, shallots, serranos and fennel before adding spices. They will eventually melt into the sauce. The wine is an added layer of flavor, not something conspicuous. A light white wine like a Vinho Verde or a Sauvignon Blanc gives the broth a brighter, more fragrant flavor. (You can also use a red wine if you so choose.) Reducing the sauce (to about half) will intensify it to perfection. The seafood you add will unleash its beautiful brine and make the sauce more brothy.
The rule of thumb with most recipes is that garlic should kiss you on the mouth, not slap you in the face. I, however, lean more toward slap-happiness. As a garlic-phile I add an additional head of elephant garlic to the sauce. I halve it and then let it infuse its goodness. The before serving the cioppino, I scoop out the garlic and spread it on the bread. Tasty AF.
BTW Crusty bread is a MUST. You will want to use it to soak up the juices. Don’t skip it!
If you don’t like heat, reduce the number of peppers. Or you could substitute red pepper flakes (about ½ teaspoon) and pass additional pepper flakes at the table for those who like spice.
If you choose to pair this wine, serve either red or white but one with high acid to complement the acid of the dish. If looking for a red, choose Sangiovese or Pinot Noir. If a white is more your taste, grab a Sauv Blanc. Of course, bubbles are always a delicious choice.
Ladle your heaven in a bowl and serve with bread for sopping. You will herein be revered as a kitchen goddess (or god).
I guarantee you will waddle away from the table, totally engorged and sated.
If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out, especially which fish or shellfish selections you made. Tag your photos #nakedepicurean on Instagram so we can celebrate together!
Cioppino (for 6)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 bulb of fennel, chopped
- 1-2 small serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crumbled
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1½ cups dry white wine
- 1 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained & chopped (reserve juice)
- 3 cups seafood stock (or chicken or vegetable stock, if you prefer)
- 1-ish pound of shrimp
- 12-ish clams
- 12-ish sea scallops
- 12-ish pound of mussels
- ¾-ish pound of monkfish
- ½-ish pound of crab legs
- Lobster, langostinos, squid, octopus–GO NUTS!
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- crusty bread
- red pepper flakes for passing
- Heat oil over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, cook garlic, onions, shallots, fennel, and serranos in oil in a large heavy pot until softened, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add bay leaf, Italian seasoning, and S&P.
- Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, and seafood stock and simmer, 30 minutes. Season with more S&P.
- While stew is simmering, break crab legs into manageable pieces, about 2- to 3-inches. Add clams to sauce. Let them simmer for about 5 minutes, then add crab and mussels. Clams should open after 5 more minutes. If they do not open after a total of 15 minutes, discard them. Once mussels and clams open, transfer them to a bowl.
- Nestle your fish filets in the sauce. Add scallops and simmer until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer for about 3 more minutes, until they turn pink. Add squid and octopus to broth and cook another minute or 2 (longer than that and it may become rubbery). Discard bay leaf, then return clams and mussels to pot and gently stir.
- Ladle cioppino immediately in large soup bowls and garnish with parsley.