The tomato-based seafood stew called "cioppino" began in the kitchens of San Francisco’s Italian-American immigrants. Those cooks used a variety of fish and shellfish found in their new region to make this colorful, hearty meal.
Take that stew pot to New England and the seafood changes. Where San Francisco cooks have Dungeness crab, New Englanders have lobster, haddock, and other bounty from the North Atlantic.
Cioppino, it turns out, translates just fine to East Coast tables.
In my version of cioppino, I like using haddock as the anchor, though you can use halibut or any other firm-fleshed white fish. The fish goes into a sauce made with pureed tomatoes, the cooking liquid from steaming mussels and clams, and a little chicken stock.
Adding poultry stock to seafood dishes is an old French technique that gives a dish an extra dimension.
A few chunks of cooked lobster are also added to the pot, along with some golden potatoes. New Englanders love lobster and many markets sell it already cooked and removed from the shell. Look for it sold this way if you don't feel like tackling a whole lobster. (You can also substitute peeled shrimp instead, if you like.)
Every beautiful, brimming bowl of this cioppino is loaded with flavors of the sea. This is perfect for a casual dinner party or small gathering. Enjoy!
New England Cioppino
- 1 cup white wine, or 1 cup water and the juice of 1 lemon
- 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed with beards removed
- 1 1/2 pounds littleneck clams (about 12 clams in their shells)
- 6 small Yukon Gold or red potatoes (the size of walnuts) or fingerling potatoes, sliced into coins
- 1 can (16 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes and their juices
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1 pound skinless boneless haddock, halibut, or other firm-fleshed white fish, cut into 6 even-sized pieces
- 1/2 pound cooked lobster, out of the shell and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Prepare the mussels:
In a large pot, pour in the wine or water and lemon juice. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Watch the pan carefully because the liquid tends to spill out when it boils. Once boiling, lower the heat and cook the mussels for 2 minutes or until they open. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mussels to a bowl. Discard any that are not open.
Prepare the clams in the same pot:
Add the clams to the cooking liquid, cover, and return to a boil. Lower the heat and cook the clams for 2 minutes or until they open. Set a colander over a bowl. Line the colander with a double layer of paper towels. Tip the clams and their liquid into the colander – this helps strain out any sand or grit. Save the cooking liquid. Discard any clams that are not open.
Cook the potatoes in a separate pot:
Combine the potatoes, a large pinch of salt, and water to cover in a separate pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and set on the cover askew. Simmer the potatoes for 8 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside.
Puree the tomatoes:
In a blender, combine the tomatoes and their juice. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely pureed.
Make the tomato broth:
In the same pot used to cook the shellfish, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and the leftover liquid from cooking the mussels and clams. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover with the lid slightly ajar. Simmer for 10 minutes to reduce the broth and combine the flavors.
Cook the fish:
Add the fish pieces to the tomato broth; they should be not quite submerged. Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes. The fish will be firm but not quite cooked through; it will finish cooking in the next steps.
Add the cooked mussels, clams, lobster, and potatoes to the pot:
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parsley over the fish, then add the mussels, clams, lobster meat, and cooked potatoes to the pot. Ladle some of the broth over top. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Spoon more broth over top, cover, and continue cooking for 2 minutes more, or until all the shellfish is hot.
Serve the stew:
Divide the stew between bowls, making sure to get plenty of broth. Sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons parsley.