August 19, 2022



why it works

  • A rich seafood broth ensures this cioppino is full of flavor, not bland and watery.
  • Carefully sequencing the poaching of each type of seafood in the broth yields perfect results, no overcooked fish.
  • A savory roasted red pepper salsa adds extra layers of flavor to the stew.

Cioppino hails from San Francisco and the seafood found in a simmering pot usually comes from the Pacific, but its roots are far from the oceans, along the Italian coast and southern France, where this style tomato seafood stew is common. .

The word “cioppino” most likely comes from “ciuppin”, a Ligurian variant of these Mediterranean stews, which was brought to San Francisco by Genoese immigrants over a century ago. In my copy of the Italian cookbook La Cucina Ligure by Alessando Molinari Pradelli, there are two versions of ciuppin. In one, which the book describes as “particolare” to express its relative strangeness, the ciuppin’s fish is left whole; in the other, presented as the most traditional, the fish is mashed to make a creamy broth, a bit like a French bouillabaisse. It should be noted that the two ciuppin recipes in this book only call for finfish and not the shellfish required in a cioppino, although I have found other Italian ciuppin recipes online that incorporate a wider variety of seafood. Either way, trying to pinpoint every detail of the cioppino’s origin is a bit of a mad dash since Mediterranean fishermen and sailors have traveled along this coast for millennia, spreading culinary traditions all the time, that is, after all. , why this type of soup has so many variations throughout the region.

To many Americans, a bowl of cioppino may look a lot like what they call bouillabaisse, but that’s a misconception. What often passes for a “bouillabaisse” here is really just a saffron cioppino, sometimes accompanied by lobster. This Americanized “bouillabaisse” is undoubtedly delicious, but it is also quite far from what bouillabaisse is supposed to be.

So what defines Cioppino? Well, for starters, lots of Pacific seafood, if you’re lucky enough to live there, including mussels and clams, prawns, squid, fish and crab like Dungeness, which at the prices charged by Dungeness these days is admittedly a touch extravagant. If you don’t live near the Pacific, it’s still fairly easy to make cioppino, as most of these ingredients can be easily replaced with Atlantic varieties.

Beyond seafood, cioppino is based on a rich seafood broth flavored with white wine and lots of tomato. A slice of San Francisco sourdough toast (or any leavenreally) is the appropriate finishing touch.

In developing this recipe, I had a few goals. First of all, while there are some really great renditions of cioppino out there, I’ve too often fallen victim to thin, watery attempts. The number one priority was to ensure a broth so flavorful that it justified the expense of making the cioppino in the first place. I also wanted to find a technique for cooking the stew that would ensure that all the seafood in the bowl reached the table perfectly cooked, a difficult task considering the variety of seafood in the pot and how quickly some of them can overcook.

The last thing I intended to figure out was how to incorporate the bell pepper flavor. Peppers usually find their way into cioppino in one way or another, often as chili flakes to add heat and sometimes as a cooked pepper in the aromatic base of the broth, along with other classic aromatics such as onion, garlic and celery. I wanted to take these basic ideas but be more thoughtful about them, all with the goal of creating a more delicious final stew.

Building a Better Broth for Cioppino

It’s disappointing to eat a cioppino that’s loaded with seafood and weak in flavor, but it’s unfortunately a common experience. Much of the seafood served in the bowl is cooked quickly and has little time to infuse the broth with any flavor. In my experience, it’s not enough to cook stew in one pot from start to finish – you’ll never capture the flavor the stew deserves. Instead, you must first prepare a rich seafood broth, a broth in which you can cook tasty dishes like pieces of fish and crabs. hardextracting as much flavor as possible (and, from the fish heads, their natural gelatin, which will give the broth more body).

Because cioppino is a more robust stew, I don’t take the delicate approach of a traditional French aroma. Instead, I sauté the onion, fennel, celery, and garlic with tomato paste more aggressively, allowing the aromatics to brown a bit.

Then I add any affordable shellfish I can make – here on the East Coast that meant blue crab bodies and the reserved shells of the shrimp that will end up in the final stew (if you can get shrimp with the head, even better, toss those shrimp heads in the pot for even more flavor). I know live crabs can be hard to find in some areas, so do your best; if you can’t get any, or if the crabs are too expensive to justify using them in a stockpile, you can skip them.

After that, I add dry white wine and fish bones and heads of any lean, white-fleshed variety, such as snapper, bass, halibut, etc. You can almost always get this kind of leftover fish from a good fishmonger – they’re happy to sell what would otherwise be trash for cheap. Just make sure they’re fresh (ask to smell them if in doubt) because fish broth made from old fish won’t make a broth anyone will want to eat.

To further develop a rich seafood flavor, I also empty a few small bottles of clam juice in the pot. We’ll add real fresh clams and their juice later, but it’s still a great ingredient for making a very flavorful broth.

Once it’s all simmered for about an hour, it’s ready to strain and use in real cioppino.

The Capsicum Conundrum: How to Get the Best Capsicum Flavor With Roasted Red Pepper Salsa

Cioppino is not a fiery stew, but it usually has at least some spiciness from the chili flakes. Many recipes also incorporate red or green bell pepper into the aromatic base of the stew. It’s a flavor I adore in Cajun and Creole cuisine, where green pepper is a crucial part of the “holy trinity” of aromatics that ground a wide range of dishes from Jambalaya and Okra at muffled, but here I had the impression that he was going to get lost in the broth. I wanted to capture that peppery flavor, but in a more thoughtful way.

I’ve gone about it two ways: First, I cook the stew itself with red pepper flakes and a bit of chili paste, for a more complex chili heat. The chili paste you use is up to you. I used a Calabrian chili paste I had on hand, but sriracha, sambal oelek, or other chili pastes will work.

Second, I used the peppers as inspiration to create a condiment to serve with the stew, charring them then pureeing the flesh of the roasted peppers with olive oil, lemon juice, more paste peppers and fresh herbs (I chopped parsley and the fennel fronds that go in broth and stew). It’s a more concentrated and vibrant expression of pepper that’s a delicious and easy upgrade from a classic cioppino.

The Seafood Sequence: The Best Way to Cook Seafood in Cioppino

The last key step to a good cioppino is not to spoil the seafood. There’s a lot that goes into the pan, and if you’re not careful, it can easily overcook. I ended up cooking the seafood in the following order:

  • Molds: Mussels cook quickly, but there are also plenty of them (they tend to come in two-pound bags), and if left as is, there’s no room in the stew for anything else . So I cook them first in the stew, until they open, then I fish them out and transfer them to a bowl to cool. Once they’ve cooled, I shell out most of them, leaving only a small group in the shell for presentation. Mussels should all be reheated with a quick dip in broth before serving.
  • Squid: Squid can be cooked very briefly or for a longer period of around 25 minutes, both giving tender results; anything in the middle is likely to be rubbery. I love the flavor of long simmered calamari, and since it’s a stew, it seemed like an obvious choice to go with it. It also makes things more manageable, as the squid can just sit in the pan without worrying that it will be overcooked.
  • Clams: Then, I add the clams, I tear them off as soon as they open and I reserve them (no need to shell them, there are only about ten).
  • Fish: I recommend breaking the fish into 2 ounce pieces, which are just the right size per serving. Using a mesh strainer, I lower the fish into the simmering broth, then remove it as soon as it’s just cooked through.
  • Shrimp: To finish off with the fastest raw protein cooking, I add the shrimp using the same colander technique.
  • Crab: Since Dungeness is hard to find where I live, I decided to add the crab to the stew as pre-cooked crabmeat (chunk blue crab or Jonas crab are common options), this which is by far the easiest way to incorporate crab into stew for most home cooks. Shelled crabmeat only needs a very brief dip in broth before serving. Crab is an important ingredient in cioppino, but it’s also the one that varies the most from place to place, so what you end up using will influence how you should prepare it. If you’re using crabs in the shell, I recommend reheating them first, either in the broth or some other way, then scattering them among serving plates.

The process seems more difficult than it is, but even though it is more difficult than others, it is worth it. It would be such a shame to go so far to make this fully loaded seafood stew only to overcook the seafood. How little effort you put into getting it right brings big rewards to the table.

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