This classic San Francisco seafood stew is a lot easier to make than you might think. Warm, cozy, and perfect with a hunk of sourdough and a glass of wine.
Happy Friday and Happy National Seafood Month! October is dedicated to all-things-seafood, which to me, is far more appealing than the silly, gory treats that always emerge in anticipation of Halloween. But to some, cooking seafood is way scarier than any ghost or goblin, so if you’re one of those folks, stick around and allow me to calm your fears and show you just how easy it can be.
This is a recipe for a rustic seafood stew known as cioppino, which was created in San Francisco by Italian immigrant fisherman. And since I come from a family of Italian immigrant fisherman, making this dish makes me feel right at home. It starts with a simple base of sauteed fennel, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs, and then it gets finished with a boatload (pun intended) of seafood. I’m making mine with wild gulf shrimp, locally caught mussels and littleneck clams, Alaskan king crab, and my favorite sustainable fish, barramundi.
Most of the cooking happens in the beginning, as we coax out all the beautiful flavors from the veggies and simmer the broth to deepen its flavor. The seafood comes in at the very end, first with the mussels and clams to give them a chance to open, and then with the shrimp, crab, and fish, which all cook up super fast. The key to this dish is to serve the cioppino right when the fish is just cooked through. It’s literally nothing more than throwing everything into the pot and letting it simmer for just a few minutes. Don’t overcook it, and definitely don’t overthink it. It’s really pretty simple.
Go easy on the salt in the beginning, as the shellfish will add a significant amount of salinity. Taste it right before serving and then adjust as needed. As with cooking anything, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Ladle the cioppino into big bowls and be sure to serve it with lots of crusty bread for sopping up all of that delicious broth.
This recipe is perfect for this time of year when you want something warm and hearty, but not super rich and heavy. You can, of course, switch up the seafood to use a different type of crab, add extra shrimp, swap out the mussels for extra clams or vice versa. Just don’t skip out on the barramundi. It’s the best part!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 cup thinly sliced fennel
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- pinch red chili flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig fresh thyme (substitute 1/4 teaspoon dried)
- 1 sprig fresh oregano (substitute 1/4 teaspoon dried)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 25 littleneck clams, scrubbed
- 1/2 lb mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 1/2 lb 16-20 count shrimp, shell on
- 1/2 lb king crab legs, cracked and broken into large pieces
- 1/2 lb barramundi fillets, cut into large pieces
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
- crusty bread, for serving
- Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, chili flakes, bay leaf, thyme, and oregano, then sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until incorporated, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Go easy on the seasoning for now, as the seafood will add a significant of salt.
- Add the white wine and clam juice, then bring up to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and break them up a bit with a wooden spoon. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid and add the mussels and clams. Stir them around to coat with the broth, then cover and let cook for about 5 minutes. When they just begin to open, add the shrimp and king crab and toss around to coat, then lay the barramundi fillets on top. Season the barramundi with salt and pepper, then cover and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the shrimp and barramundi are opaque throughout.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the butter until incorporated. Taste the broth and add more salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately with lots of crusty bread on the side for dipping.