Written and photographed by Christine Galanti
Who but the Italians—creators of scooters cooler than motorcycles and coffee machines sleek as sports cars—could make fish stew sexy?
Legend has it that a century ago, Genoa-born immigrant fishermen in San Francisco shared a communal meal featuring the catch of the day, sometimes while still aboard the boat. A collection pot was passed around with encouraging calls for everyone to chip in whatever was fresh and available. The end result was a mix of seafood that could be cooked into a simple tomato sauce for a tasty meal. With an Italian accent, “chip in” became “cioppino.” At least, that’s how the eponymous Cioppino’s on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf tells it.
Regardless of the questionable origin of its name, cioppino is without a doubt the sexiest of soups and the perfect choice for a romantic winter meal. In fact, cioppino is best enjoyed in cold, bad weather, accompanied by crusty bread and following a glass of Prosecco. Though its ingredients are almost identical to its classic French cousin bouillabaisse, cioppino’s vibe is more Giada di Laurentiis than Julia Child.
With a base of savory tomato broth, it has just enough spice to warm your insides. Fresh seafood is cooked in the simmering broth, imparting a mild briny flavor. Cioppino is traditionally made with a mix of sea creatures. In keeping with the real Italian method of cooking, using whatever is fresh and in season, it’s fair game to make substitutions for the seafood choices. Cioppino recipes normally include shrimp and crab, but this home cook would rather steer you to throw in a baby octopus or three.
Like the perfect date, it’s fresh, hot, comforting, and full of surprises. And trust me, you won’t regret it the next day.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes
Makes 4 servings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves , finely chopped
- 2 medium stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 skinny leek, thinly sliced, white part only
- 1/2 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1 1/4 cups white wine
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup tomato paste, divided
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup (8 oz.) chicken broth
- 1 8-oz. bottle clam juice
- 1 pound mussels
- 1 dozen clams
- 1/2 pound tuna, salmon, or other firm-fleshed fish
- 1/2 pound flounder, cod, or other flaky fish
- 1/2 pound scallops
In a 4-quart Dutch oven or stockpot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. When the oil is heated and runny, add one tablespoon butter and swirl around the pot until just melted. Add the onion, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until onions are soft, stirring occasionally. Uncover and continue to stir for one minute or until onion is golden brown and caramelized. Add a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Add the remaining tablespoon olive oil and heat for 30 seconds, then add the remaining butter, garlic, celery, leek, red bell pepper, fennel, and parsley. Cover and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste, crushed red pepper, dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano, and bay leaves. Add the wine and raise the heat to medium-high until the wine comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pot, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
Add the diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and clam juice. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Taste the broth, adding more salt and pepper as needed.
Raise the heat to medium. Add the clams and mussels. Cover and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until clams and mussels are half open. Add the fish (firm-fleshed first, flaky last) and scallops. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the scallops and fish are just firm and the shellfish are completely open.
Christine Galanti is a kangaroo-cooking, five-dollar-Polish-dinner-hunting, baby-octopus loving freelance writer in New York.