If there’s one dish that screams San Francisco to me, it’s Cioppino served with a big round loaf of Sourdough bread to mop up all the juices. And while I’m home with my apron strings tied to the stove, we’re eatin’ Cioppino for Christmas Eve. No bouillabaisse, no moules marinière, no matelote – I want San Francisco Cioppino! I could make this dish on my little two burner stove in Paris, but it’s just not the same without Dungeness crab, Tomales Bay sweet clams, and line caught halibut or ling cod.
Cioppino is the ultimate party food for grown ups. You get to eat it with your fingers, lick ’em clean, and pretend it’s adult to do so. It’s a fun dish with lots of energy, color, and texture: red crab legs popping out, grey clam shells bursting open, large chunks of white fish, warm chunky tomato sauce flecked with chopped green peppers, pink curly que shrimp with little fan tails. I really can’t think of another dish that sets the tone right for the holidays.
If I haven’t sold you on Cioppino already, then let me add that the broth can be made a day or two before your dinner party. When ready to serve, reheat and add all the fish and shellfish. It’s a one pot party dish that has style, class, and loads of San Francisco history.
Note to cook: I always use a mixture of what’s fresh in the market. I usually choose one firm white fish, a mixture of shellfish or just one type (clams, shrimp, cockles, scallops, etc.), and some crab. Unfortunately, my fish market was plain sold of crab for the day so I couldn’t take a photo with it. Take my basic recipe and then adapt it to your area!
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, shaved thin on a mandolin
- 1 large green pepper, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley (save some for presentation)
- 3 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz each)
- 2 cup dry red or white wine (I prefer white because it won't change turn the fish purple in color)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dry basil
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 dozen fresh clams in shell
- 1 pound large-size raw shrimp (around 30)
- 2 large Dungeness cooked crabs (2 lbs. each) cracked
- 1 pound firm white fish cut into large strips or chunks or scallops
In a large pot (at least 6 quarts), heat olive oil on medium. Add onions and celery and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Stir in diced tomatoes and their liquid, shaved garlic, wine, bay leaf, basil, oregano, chopped parsley, and green pepper. Cover and simmer for around 10 minutes or until thickened slightly. Cover, cool, and chill if making cioppino soup base ahead. (can be made 2 days ahead)
Scrub clams to remove sand and de-vein shrimp (or buy them pre-cleaned), cut fish into strips. Reheat soup base on high if made ahead and add clams. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until clams are steamed open. Very important to have the soup base piping hot before adding clams or they won't open easily. Turn down heat to medium low to a simmer and add shrimp, fish, and crab (and scallops too if using). Cook until shrimp is pink and the crab is warmed through.
Ladle into big bowls and sprinkle some extra chopped fresh parsley on top.
Give your guests a big white napkin that they can tie around their necks and eat up!
Note to cook: I always use a mixture of what's fresh in the market. I usually choose one firm white fish, a mixture of shellfish or just one type (clams, shrimp, cockles, scallops, etc.), and some crab. Unfortunately, my fish market was plain sold of crab for the day so I couldn't take a photo with it. Take my basic recipe and then adapt it to your area!
Also, I often add extra wine to the soup base, sometimes up to a whole bottle depending on how much clam and shell fish liquor there is. Tt's a good idea to taste throughout and adjust to your liking.