It was luring me. Making it's beguiling qualities present at every turn. Cioppino.
First I watched a celebrity chef make it on TV. Next, a friend emailed me a different recipe she found and thought I'd want. A few weeks later, I came across yet another version in a beloved cookbook, previously undiscovered. And again, printed in the next edition of my favorite magazine. Cioppino. I couldn't escape it! It must be made...and soon.
Pronounced "Chip-een-o." An American creation from San Fransisco. Fishermen and fishmongers--mostly Italian immigrants--invented this one at the market. As the story goes, one said to another, "Can you chip-in-o somma feesh?" "Si!" "And you, chip-in-o somma clams?" "Si, si." This continued until every necessary item was "chipped in" for a fantastic communal meal.
Regardless of it's humble origin, this is the most lovely seafood stew I have ever had the honor of tasting. This is no Tuesday night, throw-together dinner. Cioppino is an event in a bowl! The broth alone has a wonderfully complex fusion of both robust and delicate flavors. And the seafood...well anything you add clams or lobster to, can't be bad! This is a perfect show-off meal, but can certainly be served in a casual setting. I love to do that--cook something elegant that feels like comfort food!
Ingredients that must be "chipped in" include: white fish (cod, halibut, pollock), shellfish (lobster, crab, shrimp...) and mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels...) Some recipes I came across included 5-6 different types of seafood. But, I'm a less is more kind of girl, so 1 item from each group for me! Any variety is acceptable; buy the freshest seafood you can find.
The wine you select is important. You can use a light red like a Rioja or Pinot Noir, or a dry white like Sauvignon Blanc. Red produces a MUCH better color, while white tends to deliver a lighter, summery stew. Either way, choice something you would drink. You don't want to ruin your high-quality seafood with lousy wine.
The lesson learned here: When opportunity presents itself over and over, take it as a sign from above! Something delicious is bound to come out of it!
MY Cioppino, is a culmination of what I considered the highlights in each recipe! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
2 Tb. olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced
3 Tb. tomato paste
1 Tb. dried tarragon (2 Tb. fresh)
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large pinch of saffron
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. salt
Black pepper to taste
1 ½ cups wine
1- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1- 32 oz. carton of seafood stock
1 ½ lbs. little neck clams or mussels
1 lb. firm white fish
1 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled
1-2 Tb. flour
* Lemon wedges and chopped parsley for garnishing
Dealing with fennel. First cut off the stalks. You can use the fronds later in the week. (Think salads, sauces, mixed with goat cheese, sprinkled over fruit...)
Then half the bulb and remove the core.
Slice the bulb thin. You may want to quarter the bulb for smaller slices.
Place a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tb. of oil to the pot. Sauté the fennel and onions for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and tomato paste.
Sauté one more minute; then add the tarragon, thyme, saffron, red pepper, bay, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Next pour in the wine, stock and tomatoes. Bring the stew to a boil. Lower the heat, COVER, and simmer for AT LEAST 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the fish into 1 inch cubes and toss the fish and shrimp in flour.
Rinse and check all mollusks for freshness. They should all be completely closed. If they are open, squeeze them shut. If they don’t instantly close up again, THROW THEM OUT. Any open or cracked mollusk should NOT go in the Cioppino!
Once the stew has simmered for 30+ minutes, add the mollusks. Stir and allow them to cook for 3-5 minutes until they are mostly opened. Next add the fish and shrimp. Stir well and simmer another 3-5 minutes. The broth should thicken and all the mollusks should open wide.
Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and any unopened mollusks. Garnish the Cioppino with parsley and lemon wedges; then serve with LOTS of warm crusty sourdough bread or Parmesan toast!