Cioppino

“I’ll make cioppino,” my brother John announced as the family discussed what to make over the holiday weekend. “Great!” said my father and I, relieved that someone else would do the cooking for a night. “Have you ever made cioppino before?” Dad wisely asked. “Uh, no, but it can’t be that hard, just make a tomato base and throw in some fish, clams and crab.” Okay. Relief short lived.

Actually cioppino, a tasty fish and shellfish stew, is pretty easy to make if you have the ingredients. The trick is using the highest quality seafood. I wouldn’t attempt this stew unless I had access to very fresh fish and shellfish, fortunately abundant in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whole Foods usually carries good seafood, but you should always check when they got the item in. Preferably it came in that morning. Asian markets can be a good source of fresh seafood as well, often available at a much lower price than that of Whole Foods. If your fishmonger has some good fish or shellfish stock for sale as well, all the better.

Note that cioppino is typically served with the shellfish still in their shells, making for somewhat messy eating. It’s a lot of fun for an informal gathering. Have plenty of napkins available and don’t wear white.

Cioppino on Simply Recipes

Cioppino Recipe

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8.

Ingredients

Seafood

  • 3 pounds halibut, sea bass, or other firm white fish, cut into inch-long cubes
  • 1 large (2 lb or more) cooked Dungeness crab (hard shell)
  • 1 pound (or more) of large shrimp
  • 2 pounds little neck clams and/or mussels

Sauce

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion (1 large onion)
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper (1 large bell pepper)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes
  • Broth from the mollusks
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 2 cups fish or shellfish stock
  • An herb bouquet of bay leaf, parsley, and basil wrapped in a layer of cheesecloth and secured with kitchen string
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley for garnish

Optional seasonings: a dash of Tabasco sauce and or Worcestershire sauce

Method

1 Steam mollusks (clams and mussels) in a small amount of water (about two cups) until they just open. Set aside. Strain and reserve the cooking broth.

Remove the crab legs from the body and use a nut cracker to crack the shells so that the meat can be easily removed once it is served (leave the meat in the shell). Break the body in half, and then cut each half again into either halves or thirds. You can opt to keep the crab meat in the body segments and serve it that way (more work for the eater) or you can pick out the crab meat from the body segments. If you pick out the crab meat, try to keep it in big chunks. Keep the top shell of the crab for making stock.

Note you can use prepared fish or shellfish stock, or you can make your own. If you are not making your own stock, you can discard the crab top shell body. If prepared shellfish stock is not available, I would combine some prepared fish stock (available at many markets, including Trader Joe's) with clam juice.

3 Split the shrimp shells down the back and remove the black vein. (See how to peel and devein shrimp.) I found the easiest way to do this, without removing the shell, is to lay the shrimp on its side and insert a small knife into the large end of the shrimp, with the blade pointing outward from the back (away from the shrimp and your hands). Once you have split the shrimp shells, you can turn the knife toward the shrimp, and cut in a little to find the black vein. Pull out the vein as much as you can. You can probably also use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the backs of the shrimp.

Alternatively, you can shell the shrimps and devein them. Shell-on imparts more flavor; shell-off is easier to eat.

4 In a deep 8-quart covered pot, sauté onions and bell pepper on medium heat in olive oil until soft. Add the garlic, sauté 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, broth from the mollusks, red wine, tomato juice, fish or shellfish stock, the herb bouquet, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove herb bouquet. Taste and correct seasoning.

5 Add the fish and cook, covered, until the fish is just cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the steamed mollusks, crabmeat, and shrimp. Heat just until shrimp are cooked (just 2-3 minutes, until they are bright pink). Do not overcook.

6 Serve in large bowls, shells included. Sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve with crusty French or Italian bread and a robust red wine. Have plenty of napkins available, a few extra bowls for the shells, and nut crackers and tiny forks for the crab.

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Recipe adapted from a couple of recipes by James Beard.

Notes
According to the Wikipedia, Cioppino was "developed by the 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. The name comes from ciuppin, a word in the Ligurian dialect of the port city of Genoa, which described the local fish stew."

Cioppino on Simply Recipes

 

Cioppino (alternate photo)

Original photo

17 Comments

  1. lydia

    I love cioppino! Lately I’ve been adding fresh shaved fennel (bulb) to the stock. It really enhances the flavor.

    Happy holidays!

  2. jonathan

    Cioppino? I’m noticing a decidedly West Coast/San Fran bent here lately, Elise ;-) The tri-tip, cioppino, etc…

    Foods which may be a little foreign to us here on the East Coast.

    Aside from that, thanks for entertaining and inspiring us over the last year with your family stories, witty banter (typing!) and above all, delicious recipes. You make the internet – and cooking – fun. A happy, healthy holiday and new year to you and yours, Elise.

  3. Hazel

    Reminds me a bit of boullabaise (sp?)… sounds sooooo good!

    I gotta try this one of these days … maybe fore New Year’s eve!

  4. Elise

    Hi Lydia – great idea on the fennel bulb, thanks!

    Hi Jonathan – when I lived in Boston 20 some odd years ago, I lived in the North End where across the street we could get lobster for $4 a pound, and fresh calamari, little neck clams, and mussels to our hearts content. Those were the days… A very happy holiday and new year to you and yours as well.

  5. Erin

    I’ve made “quick cioppino” a few times – not as many ingredients, & much easier. During the summer I used fresh lavender & basil from the garden. I also like the leftovers served over pasta.

  6. Linda Wood

    We always get this dish at our favorite seafood restaurant on Long Beach Island, NJ. With the hot crock of cioppino, a huge bed of linguini is served and the “stew” is served over the linguini. It goes great with a red peppery-tasting wine!

  7. DB

    I have made this recipe many times since I found it with a few changes/additions. Sometimes I add finely chopped celery and carrot. Sometimes I add a little fresh Jalapeno or use white wine instead of red or both! One time I made a garlic aioli and put it in a bottle and squeezed out a bit in a pattern on top of each bowl for a nice presentation. One thing I wanted to add – I don’t think it’s worth it to go to the added trouble of making your own fish stock. I usually use veggie broth or clamato juice. I’ve tried it both ways and I can’t tell the difference. Also, I usually just dump the fish in at the end after the base has been simmering for about 1/2 hour. I put the fish in in stages based on how long each type takes to cook (shrimpies last). The only time this recipe did not turn out was when I accidentally used flavored chopped tomatoes with SUGAR in them. This caused the entire dish to taste like canned ragu speghetti sauce. Not good.

  8. Robin

    I made this recipe last night…DELICIOUS! I highly recommend it if you love seafood and don’t mind getting messy. The red wine definately compliments this recipe and you MUST dip your bread to savor the amazing broth!

  9. Roy Fillingham

    Incredible Cioppino recipe. I thought the Cioppino at the Pelican Room in Nawlins was good, but this was wonderful

  10. Heather

    Amazing recipe! I was a little intimidated as I didn’t want to overcook anything, but it was fabulous. Would definitely make again! Thanks for the recipe!

  11. Heather

    This looks delicious, unfortunately my boyfriend is allergic to fish (but not shellfish). Could this be made by adding additional shellfish instead of the whitefish along with shellfish stock? If so how do you suggest proportioning it?

    I would just increase the amount of shellfish and eliminate the fish. There’s no set ratio for the proportions here. What is more important is what is in season and fresh. ~Elise

  12. cherise gordon

    I really needed this recipe, being as though my family has Good Friday Dinner every year. I always bring homemade coleslaw and deviled eggs. I wanted to do something different this year because my “NEW BO” is coming to dinner this year.We kinda live together and I cook for him all the time , but I wanted to really, really impress him! So what do you all think?

    Hmm. Honestly? If you’re trying to impress someone, I would make a recipe that you’ve already made, it will be less nerve wracking. That said, this is a great recipe, not hard, just make sure to get the freshest seafood possible to go in it. ~Elise

  13. Chelsea

    Let me start by saying, I’m so happy I’ve found this site! I tried this delicious recipe last night with a few additions, and it was absolutely wonderful (even the fiance approved)!

    I look forward to trying more dishes!
    -Chels

  14. Rabeeya

    Please tell me what I can use in place of Red Wine? I am a Muslim and our religion prohibits the use of alcohol.
    E.g I use a mixture of chicken stock and vinegar for White Wine.
    Really wanted to make this soon

    Just swap out the 2 cups of wine for one more cup of fish stock and one more cup of tomato juice. ~Elise

  15. Itza

    Let me say this was the first recipe I tried from Simply Recipes and I’ve been hooked since! The only thing was that with the red wine the fish turned purple…looked a little funny but we didn’t mind; taste was to die for! Thank you thank you for this recipe! Wonderful!

  16. Jeff Loomans

    Elise, I met you just last week at a Stanford writing course, and was happy to see that when I pulled up my go-to Cioppino recipe for Columbus Day, it was yours! Living in SF, I’ve tested many Cioppino recipes; and after making this one four times now, I can say it is the best and most authentic I’ve ever tried.

    I’ve added one tweak, which is to roast the shrimp shells (but not the bodies) in the shellfish stock in a shallow pyrex dish at 300° for about 10 minutes, until the edges just start to blacken. Then I use the enriched stock as per the recipe. This allows me to discard the shells for easier eating, while retaining the deep, rich musky-shrimpy flavor I find in the best restaurants here. Thanks so much for your recipe!

    Hi Jeff, good to see you here! Thanks for the roasted shells suggestion. I usually do that when making seafood stock, hadn’t thought about incorporating that for the cioppino. Great idea. ~Elise

  17. Crowblog

    This may seem a horrible addition (or substitution) but I have made Cioppino with V-8 juice at half ratio with the tomato juice, which adds to the fumet (and would also substitute richness for the wine, if that is not used). V-8 is extremely salty of course, but does add some depth. Thanks so much for this recipe!

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