While on a quest for the perfect Cioppino recipe, I discovered some interesting information about this popular and well-liked fish stew. To begin with, although every port city in Italy has its own version of Mediterranean seafood stew, Zuppa di Pesce, Brodetto di Crostacei, Cacciucco, or whatever they call their signature dish, “Cioppino is a fish stew originating in San Francisco. Despite being considered an Italian dish, it is unknown in Italy, and it is only slightly comparable with various regional fish soups and stews of Italian cuisine. Cioppino is traditionally made from the catch of the day, which in the dish’s place of origin is typically a combination of dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels and fish. The seafood is then combined with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce, and served with toasted bread, either sourdough or baguette. The dish is comparable to cacciucco and brodetto from Italy, as well as other European fish dishes as bouillabaisse, burrida, and bourride of the French Provence, suquet de peix from Catalan speaking regions of coastal Spain. It was developed in the late 1800s by Portuguese and Italian fishermen who settled in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Originally it was made on the boats while out at sea and later became a staple as Italian restaurants proliferated in San Francisco.” That’s a lot of new information to digest, and even after all that research, it was clear to me that there was still room to further improve on this world renowned fish stew. It was time to get to work and make a killer Cioppino, and so I did. One of the secrets to my hugely successful Cioppino last night? I used lobster stock! <shhh!>
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 large shallot, chopped
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 14 ounces diced or crushed tomatoes in juice
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 3 cups lobster (or fish) stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 10-12 little neck clams, scrubbed
- ½ pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- ½ pound uncooked extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ½ pound assorted firm-fleshed fish (salmon, halibut, cod, etc.) cut into 1″ chunks
- ½ cup lump crab meat
- Fresh oregano sprigs for seasoning
- Fresh tarragon sprigs for seasoning and garnish, plus 1 Tbsp chopped
- Fennel fronds for garnish
- Sliced toasted ciabatta or sourdough bread, for mopping up broth
Heat the oil in a large stockpot or marmite over medium-low heat. Add the fennel, onion, and shallot, and sauté until golden and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the pepper flakes, salt, garlic, and sauté an additional 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, diced or crushed tomatoes with their juices, wine, lobster stock, bay leaves, oregano and tarragon sprigs. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the flavors blend well, about 30 minutes.
Add the clams and mussels to the stockpot. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the clams and mussels begin to open. Add the shrimp, fish chunks, and crab meat. Simmer and stir gently until fish and shrimp are just cooked through, and the clams are completely open, about 5 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt and red pepper flakes, if necessary.
Ladle the fish stew and some extra broth into large soup bowls. Add the fennel and tarragon sprig garnish, and a sprinkle of chopped tarragon. Lean one or two slices of toasted, crusty bread against the side of the bowl, and serve.
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