You want a bowl of this spicy, tomato-rich Shellfish Cioppino, seriously.
Having moved to the West Coast recently, I have become painfully aware that not only is fresh seafood readily available, but it’s constantly calling my name. It all starts with me just looking at the seafood. I find myself walking to the nearest fish monger, which is about a half hour away, just to see what they have. “It’s good exercise,” I tell myself. Which indeed it is, but I’m starting to feel like I finally understand window shopping. And I’m sure they think I’m a little out there. I look, ask questions, then politely leave and trek back to my place, promising myself that next time I will buy something. After torturing myself for awhile, I can’t take the beckoning any longer and I decide to splurge and cook something grand. It could be my Spicy Korean Seafood and Vegetable Stew, my Seafood Seaweed Coconut Stew, or what I’m sharing with you all today, a delicious rustic Shellfish Cioppino.
History of Cioppino
Cioppino is an Italian-American seafood stew originating in San Francisco in the 1800s. Fishermen took what they had left from the day’s catch and tossed it in a communal stew pot. The tomato base has its influences in the traditional Genoese fish stew called burrida as well as the Provençal fish stew bouillabaisse. It was one of those dishes that was different every time it was made. And that’s typically how I made my version, on the fly, without a recipe and with whatever I fancied. Sometimes I’d go heavy on the Mediterranean influences and add saffron and fennel. Or I’d get fancy and roast a bunch of vegetables first. Other times I’d keep the broth thin and delicate with basil. Hey, I was keeping with the spirit of the original fishermen!
It was that constant experimentation that led me to recipe you have before you. When I got here, I stopped tweaking. I scribbled my notes in my stained kitchen notebook and didn’t look back. To this day, I’m not even tempted to mess with it, which is rare for me. The broth is perfectly heavenly. It’s heavy on the aromatic vegetables and thick with tangy sweet tomatoes. In fact, I include three different tomato products and I’m not shy with them at all. I also prefer to keep my cioppino all shellfish. While I love fish in stews, there is something so indulgent about a shellfish medley. I love the extra flavor their shells and juices add to the broth. It doesn’t hurt that shellfish are some of the most nutrient dense foods we have available — high in minerals like selenium, which is needed for optimal thyroid function, and the immune system booster zinc, just to mention a few.
My secret ingredient is a brief sprinkle of Southeast Asian fish sauce (one of my favorite brands can be found here). It’s actually not that far fetched as Asian fish sauce is salted and fermented anchovies. And, as you may know, anchovies are kind of a big deal in Italian cooking. In fact, if you are lucky enough to have any Italian markets near you, you will be able to find bottles of anchovy juice. So if you prefer you can use that, or just smash up a single anchovy and add it to the sauce. Either way, you adding a dose of flavorful umami that enhances and deepens every single flavor in the dish. I recommend you give it a try it in this dish as well as your other Italian dishes.
Shellfish: Rich in Nutrients and in Flavor
Shellfish is particularly rich in nourishment, and is among the richest sources of B vitamins, minerals and vitamin D available to us. It is also a good source of iodine. In Dr. Price’s landmark book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, he describes how shellfish play a critical role in the traditional diets of ocean-going peoples all across the world.
Where to Find Good-Quality Shellfish
The center of this cioppino is, of course, shellfish. While you can pick up good-quality shellfish in many markets, you can also order it online here from a company that specializes in sourcing exclusively from sustainable fisheries. Shellfish, in general, are considered a “best choice” from Seafood Watch, which examines sustainability of seafood.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1 large leek white and light-green parts only, sliced thin
- 3 ribs celery finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 medium red bell pepper seeded and chopped
- 1 medium green bell pepper seeded and chopped
- 5 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 cups fish stock
- 8 oz clam juice
- 48 oz diced tomatoes
- 7 oz tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 1/2 pounds crab legs
- 1 pound shrimp deveined
- 1 pound clams
- 2 pounds scallops
- parsley to serve
- lemon wedges to serve
- In a large heavy bottom pot heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions, leeks, celery, bay leaves, and a pinch of sea salt. Let vegetables soften and become translucent, about 7 minutes. But careful to not let them brown, lower heat as necessary. Add red and green bell peppers and let cook down for an additional 4 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add garlic and dried spices. Stir frequently and allow spices to become very fragrant and sauté for about 3 minutes.
- Deglaze with white wine and add seafood broth, clam juice, strained tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to lowest setting. Taste and add salt as needed. If you are starting with a homemade seafood broth, then you will probably need to add more salt; a flat taste is a good indicator. Allow sauce to cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir intermittently, careful to avoid scorching or sticking.
- Add crab legs and let simmer while covered for 5 minutes. Then add shrimp and clams and cook covered until the clams open. Lastly, add scallops and cook until firm, about 3 more minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately with lemon wedges and starch of choice (sourdough is mighty good, but a side of potatoes or rice works). Don’t forget plenty of napkins!