cioppino: san francisco seafood stew

January 31st, 2010 § 4

Instead of making resolutions for this year, we’ve decided to adopt a theme of restraint. Not with the goal of deprivation – it’s more about working toward simplicity, which they say is a hallmark of perfection. So we’re looking at what we cook and aiming to remove those extraneous ingredients and steps in preparation that unnecessarily complicate a dish. When shopping for groceries, I think of Coco Chanel, and remove the last item I put in my cart.


This Cioppino is an eminently restrained dish that perfectly illustrates what we want to accomplish in the kitchen this year. Rob’s favourite thing to eat is a bouillabaisse that’s one of the most complicated and expensive things we know how to make. It’s an all-day affair, with a metric tonne of ingredients in the stock. It’s absolutely worth the investment, if you’ve got $100 to spend on dinner, and a day to spend splashing Pernod around the kitchen.


We resolved to add a simpler Mediterranean fish stew to our repertoire and found a recipe for this signature dish from San Francisco. Cioppino was created by Italian fisherman as something they could cook on their small boats with the day’s catch, so it’s necessarily easy to prepare. The recipe we used was simple to begin with, with no over-priced or under-performing ingredients, but we further simplified it by removing some unnecessary preparation steps. The result is a simple and robust dish you can make in under an hour. If you like tomatoes and seafood, you’ll love Cioppino.



adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
large pinch red pepper flakes
4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 C fish stock (or bottled clam juice)
1 C vermouth (or white wine)
2 pints (or large cans) of tomatoes, torn by hand into rough quarters
1 large bay leaf
2 tbsp. chopped oregano
2 tbsp. chopped thyme
salt and pepper
2 dozen small clams
2 dozen mussels
1 pound peeled and cleaned shrimp
1 pound scallops, sliced in two

NOTES: This works with almost any combination of shellfish, and pieces of white fish if you like, as well. You can also bring the price of this dish down a good notch by replacing the scallops with monkfish.

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy Dutch oven or stockpot. Add the onions and red pepper flakes, and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are completely translucent. Add the garlic, raise the heat, and cook for another minute, or until you can smell the garlic, but it is not yet browning.

2. Add the fish stock, vermouth, tomatoes and their juices, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes to blend the flavours.

3. Bring the broth to a rolling boil and add all of the shellfish at once, stirring to mix well with the hot broth. Put a lid on the pot and let the fish cook over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes (or until all the shells have opened and the scallops and shrimp are completely opaque), stirring once halfway through.

4. Remove the lid, and take out any shells that have remained closed. Check the seasoning and serve with toasted garlic bread or homemade croutons.

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