Best seafood stew EVER! San Francisco-style Cioppino with halibut, sea bass, Dungeness crab, shrimp, and mussels.

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



  • 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 (mussels should be scrubbed clean and beards removed right before cooking)


  • 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


1 Steam clams and mussels: 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.


2 Prepare the cooked crab: Remove the crab legs from the body and use a nutcracker 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 Prepare the shrimp: 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 Make the soup base: 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.

cioppino-2 cioppino-3

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 fish and shellfish: 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: 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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  • Victoria

    How would oysters be best incorporated?

  • MarkBonner

    Why have I not attached a picture? Your own pics are worth a thousand words already… And they made this man want to please a gourmet woman….already an artist in our kitchen… But what to do that might make her give that Mona Lisa smile ….Your cioppino was not just the picture of what I might need in this endeavor, it was and is a masterpiece of recipe instruction with every detail and timing brought together as one would do a seafood symphony, well quartet, but a joy of cooking for me! And I don’t use exclamation points.
    I’m an old 65 carpenter who wants to work with new hands on materials, I won’t give up on wood either, but expanding my tactile /sensory compulsions into food has been a gift from you and those like you, the Internet so often filled with judgement , separation, is also still a place of connection, love and sharing between those of us who are inspired by the the courage of those like yourself who share so unconditionally what they have learned. thanks Elise,
    (I just wish I had taken a pic so you could be sure I made your dish, but I will be making it again soon and if you want a pic I will send.
    have a happy new year,
    Mark Bonner
    Sacramento ca

  • Vicky

    Thank you for a great recipe that helped make my first time hosting a Feat of Seven Fishes a great success. The fish market had a prepared calamari salad with which I topped some arugula and mixed greens for a starter and I at least had 6 fish. Maybe I’ll add lobster next year to the soup for the full 7. Everyone loved it, especially my brother from landlocked Montana. He loves seafood when back East.

  • Jessy @ The Life Jolie

    This is absolutely my idea of heaven.

  • Emily @ Life on Food

    One of my favorite things. Perfect for Christmas eve.

  • 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!

  • 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


  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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!

  • Roy Fillingham

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • lydia

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

    Happy holidays!