Brimming with shrimp, clams, and crab, this shellfish cioppino is deeply nourishing. Robust tomatoes and fresh herbs fill out the soup, while lemon gives it a hint of brightness.
What is it?
Cioppino is a robust seafood stew from San Francisco. Steeped in Italian-American cookery, the stew takes inspiration from traditional Mediterranean fish stews such as the Burrida from Liguria or Brodetto di Pesce from Abruzzo. Both call for layering fish and shellfish in an herby, tomato-based broth.
This shellfish cioppino has its roots in 19th-century California. Less a strict recipe and more an intuitive process of making do with what you have at hand, the dish is traditionally prepared with whichever fish and shellfish you happen to have available.
in the 19th century, Italian immigrants to San Francisco would often fish together. If one had a slow day or ended up empty-handed, others were asked to chip in and lend a little of their own catch to the stew pot. That spirit of generosity coupled with the vibrant flavors of Italian cookery makes for a gorgeous fish stew.
What's in it?
Cioppino recipes vary, depending on the seasonal availability of fish, shellfish, and herbs. In essence, it's a dish primarily made up of what you happen to have access to. Accordingly, there's plenty of room for experimentation and variation. In this version of shellfish cioppino, you'll find crab, shrimp, and clams in a robust tomato broth spiked with pepper and herbs.
Shellfish Cioppino Recipe
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion (chopped)
- 2 medium red bell peppers (seeded and chopped)
- 5 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1 teaspoon finely ground real salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 cups fish stock
- 48 oz diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 ½ pounds crab legs
- 1 ½ pounds shrimp (deveined)
- 1 ½ pounds clams
- chopped flat-leaf parsley (to serve)
- lemon (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!
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