One of the great American gifts to our collective culinary heritage, Cioppino [♪♫ Cho-PEEN-oh] is the irresistible fish stew that first hit the shores of San Francisco in the late 19th century. Fisherman of Portuguese and Italian decent would prepare these stews on their ships with their catch of the day which could include any number of ingredients. Depending on the local catch, Cioppino has many variations but usually contains shrimp, scallops, crab, fish, clams and often squid and mussels.
The rest is rather simple: make a tomato based broth with vegetables, fish stock and herbs and serve it up with crusty bread ready to soak it up. As tradition has it, the seafood is served in their shells so have some crab crackers, fish forks and large napkins on hand and be sure to lay down a tablecloth that befits this occasion or else… stuff it and get tore in and enjoy the joys of getting dirty with this rustic dish for all seasons.
While this makes four heroic servings it’s also enough for six bowls for an ample lunch.
½ pound of bay scallops (although sea scallops would make a richer version)
½ pound of uncooked and deveined shrimp
¾ pound of thick white fleshed fish (Halibut being the obvious choice) chopped into bite sized chunks
About 2 pounds of little neck clams
Roughly a pound of Snow Crab parts (including their knuckles for the stock)
The saucy broth:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 large onion chopped fine
1 bulb of fennel chopped coarsely
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in their juice
1 8-ounce bottle of clam juice
1 cup of dry white wine (Rhone wines work especially well)
1 tsp of dried and crushed red pepper
1 tbsp fresh rosemary chopped
1 sprig of thyme
3 bay leaves
½ cup of parsley chopped with half going into the broth and half saved to garnish
2 lemons sliced for each guest to juice to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Don’t forget a baguette or two depending on your appetites
The simple method:
Simmer crab knuckles in the white wine while steaming the clams over a cup of water until they just open
Heat olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat to sauté the garlic, onions, fennel together for five minutes or so.
Stir in the red pepper, thyme, and bay leaves.
Stir in the can of tomatoes, the bottle of clam juice, and the wine stock and bring to a simmer that you sustain for twenty minutes while you stir from time to time.
Toast up the baguettes in the oven to just crisp them up a bit
Chuck in all the seafood along with the rosemary and half the parsley and simmer until the seafood is done which takes only five minutes or so.
Serve piping hot, sprinkled with parsley beside slices of lemon for each to juice as they like.
Wines to make it even better
Just reading this recipe piques one’s hunger and tempts one’s thirst but which wines work best? Loads can accompany Cioppino but because it’s rich, you might want some body if you go for whites; because it is tomato based, Cioppino calls for wines with acidity and the lively reds can work wonders here. Wines to avoid are heavyset reds with abrasive tannins that will read as especially coarse against seafood, corpulent whites might run the risk of coming across as flabby against such rich seafood like crab –unless of course it has ample acidity to keep it bright and buoyant. Some we’ve tested and found true to the task include:
Foreau Brut Vouvray - RD sparkling Chenin blanc seems born to match with such cuisine (dare I say all cuisine?)
Iron Horse Chardonnay with graceful verve, this is an invigorating wine beside rich fruits de mer
Dr Loosen Riesling Kabinett Bernkasteler Lay with it's off dry nuance and minerality this brings harmony to Cioppino -traditional bouillabase too!
Pibarnon Bandol Rouge Mmm... Mourvedre... a terrific variety from a top notch region and producer, this goes well because it's juicy and fragrant and its tannins are well burnished
Caves de Saumur Bourgueil Beauregard Juicy and fresh a respite at every sip and a joy to drink
Muga Rioja Reserva- Unfiltered A complete surprise, this Tempranillo has calmed and developed charm over its course in barrel and bottle -fragrant, smooth, elegantly layered this worked really well.
Cioppino by Nicholas D. Livingston sums up a little advice for those passionate for Cioppino