Cioppino or Italian Fish Stew from San Francisco

Souper Bowl
The 49ers are in the Super Bowl this weekend and most of the Bay Area is excited. (There are a number of Raiders fans who just can’t bring themselves to watch, despite the departure of the team.) Around The Bay, there will be the usual parties with the usual nosh required to keep the energy up to support the team. Burgers? Sure. Brats? Of course. Guac? Wouldn’t be a party without it. If you want to go with something truly San Francisco for your Super Bowl party, I have a suggestion that is a bit outside of the box.

The recent opening of the local crab season has me thinking about cioppino, which couldn’t be any more authentically San Francisco, since it was invented in the late 1800s by Italian immigrant fishermen in North Beach. Legend has it that when a fisherman returned from fishing off the wharf empty-handed, he would walk around with a pot asking the other fishermen if they could chip in anything they could spare. The combination of fish and shellfish that made it to his pot became his cioppino and it was expected that, should the fisherman be successful on another day, he would then chip in some of his catch for another who was not as fortunate.

I love a good cioppino. In my mind you can never go wrong with mixed seafood in broth be it tomato-based or white wine and stock. It’s also pretty easy to feed a crowd. I will point out that this is not finger food. It requires a seat at a table with napkins and a place to put the shells. Perfect for Halftime.

Since cioppino was created to use whatever was available, there is no right or wrong mix of seafood for you to use. My daughter can’t have shrimp, which is a pretty standard component, so I will leave them out and use more mussels and clams. And, when it’s crab season, I will get a cleaned and cracked crab or two to throw in the pot. The legs go in whole, but I get the other meat out of the shell and top the stew with it before serving.

Cioppino Recipe
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and The Food Network
Yields 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large fennel bulb
1 onion
3 large shallots
2 teaspoons salt
4 large garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can of diced tomatoes in juice
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
5 cups fish or seafood stock
1 bay leaf
1 to 2 pounds manila clams, scrubbed
1 to 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed
1 to 2 cooked Dungeness crab
1 pound assorted firm-fleshed fish fillets such as halibut or salmon,
Crusty bread for serving

Prep the ingredients
Thinly slice the fennel bulb, and chop the onion and the shallots. Finely chop the garlic. Scrub the clams and de-beard the mussels. Clean and crack the Dungeness crab leaving the legs whole and remove the stomach meat. Cut the firm-fleshed fish into 2-inch chunks.

Cook the aromatics
Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots, and salt and sauté until the onion is translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and sauté (about 2 minutes).

Add the liquids
Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock, and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

Simmer the broth
Cover and simmer until the flavors blend (about 30 minutes).

Add the fish
Add the clams and mussels to the cooking liquid. Cover and cook until the clams and mussels begin to open (about 5 minutes).

Add the crab and fish. Simmer gently until the fish is just cooked through, the crab is warmed, and the clams are completely open, stir gently while cooking (about 5 minutes longer). Discard any clams and mussels that do not open.

Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and red pepper flakes.

To serve
Ladle the soup into bowls and add extra crab meat on top. Serve with sliced crusty bread for dipping.

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