This recipe for Authentic Cioppino is a classic Italian-American seafood stew from San Francisco that's loaded with clams, shrimp, mussels, crab, and white fish in a flavorful herbed tomato broth. It's warm, cozy and perfect with a big hunk of sourdough and a crisp glass of wine. This an impressive dish is far easier to make than it looks. Skip the restaurant and make this iconic mouthwatering seafood dish at home!
Cioppino is a rustic tomato-based seafood stew that originated in the late 1800s near the San Francisco Bay by Italian immigrants. I grew up on the east coast, but I come from a big family of Italian immigrant fishermen, and just like my Lobster Bisque and New England Clam Chowder, preparing this dish makes me feel right at home.
Seafood cioppino starts with a simple soup base of sautéed aromatics like fennel, onions, garlic, whole tomatoes, red pepper flakes and herbs, then gets finished with a boatload (pun intended) of seafood.
I make my version of cioppino with wild gulf shrimp, locally caught mussels and littleneck clams, Alaskan king crab legs, and whatever other fresh seafood I can find - usually the fresh catch of the day.
This Italian seafood stew is perfect for when you want something warm and hearty but not super rich and heavy. It has so much flavor, but the broth is still light and delicate.
One of the reasons I love making this fish stew at home is because it’s so simple to prepare and can easily adapt to use different types of seafood. Throw in another variety of crab meat or live crabs, add extra shrimp, and swap out the live mussels for extra clams or vice versa. Just be sure to use the freshest seafood you can find.
This classic cioppino recipe is not to be missed if you're a seafood fan. It's a fairly simple recipe that relies on high-quality fresh produce and really good seafood, locally caught if possible.
Cioppino stew is a great dish to serve at special occasions, such as the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Instead of cooking seven different seafood recipes, you can include all seven fishes in one large pot of cioppino!
Why this recipe works
- Seafood is added in intervals to ensure each is cooked perfectly.
- Simple to prepare but really impressive.
- Perfect for special occasions and entertaining.
- Highlights the delicate flavors of fresh seafood.
- Customizable with your favorite seafood.
For the broth
- Fennel - Fennel is traditional in cioppino. It has a distinct sweet anise flavor that complements the salty flavors of this stew beautifully. If you're a lover of fennel, throw in a few fennel seeds for added flavor.
- White wine - Use a dry white wine that you wouldn’t mind also drinking! Pinot grigio, pinot blanc, or sauvignon blanc are all good choices.
- Clam juice - You can use fish stock or seafood stock, but I find bottled clam juice is easy to source and adds great flavor to the stew.
- Fresh herbs - I add fresh thyme, oregano, bay leaves and parsley to add an earthy depth to the stew. You can substitute ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme and oregano, or dried bay leaves, if needed, but do try to use fresh parsley.
- Butter - Be sure to use unsalted butter. The seafood adds quite a bit of salt to the dish, so using salted butter could throw it over the edge.
- Tomatoes - I like using canned whole peeled tomatoes and crushing them with my hands or the back of a spoon. Crushed tomatoes or pureed tomatoes would also work for this broth.
- Clams - I like to use little neck clams because they're locally caught and readily available where I live. You can substitute any type of steamer clam or cockles if needed. Just make sure you're using fresh, live clams, and discard any that are open before cooking.
- Mussels - Look for fresh, live mussels that are firmly closed. Prince Edward Island mussels are the best if you can find them. Always scrub and debeard the mussels before using. Debearding is just removing the little hairs that hang off the mussel.
- Crab - I love using king crab legs to make my cioppino extra special. You can also use snow crab legs, whole Dungeness crab, blue crabs or even lobster tails. Crack the shells and break into large pieces before adding them to the stew for easy eating.
- Shrimp - I prefer to use extra large or “Jumbo” sized shrimp, usually 16-20 or 12-15 count per pound. I prefer to leave the shells on because it adds more flavor to the cioppino broth. Unless you live where shrimp are locally caught, always opt for frozen wild caught shrimp and defrost them yourself.
- Fish - You can make cioppino with any type of firm, white fish you prefer. I love using barramundi, halibut, cod, sea bass or whatever the day's catch is.
*Full ingredient list with quantities is in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Large Pot or Dutch Oven: A large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven is essential for holding all of the seafood and also for retaining the heat as it cooks.
- Large Slotted Spoon - For removing the pieces of seafood and serving.
- Tongs - Also helpful for removing and moving around pieces of seafood.
- Can Opener: If you're using canned tomatoes, a can opener is necessary to open the cans.
Step by step instructions
Make the broth
Pour extra-virgin olive oil into a large pot or dutch oven, then place on the stove over medium heat.
Sauté the onions and fennel and until translucent. Add the garlic, chili peppers, bay leaf, thyme, and oregano and cook for a few minutes more.
Stir in the tomato paste until incorporated, then season lightly with salt and pepper.
Pour in the white wine and clam juice, then bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes to let the flavors meld.
Add the seafood
It's important to cook it in layers so each piece is cooked perfectly.
First add the mussels and clams. Stir to coat them with the broth, then cover and let cook for about 5 minutes.
When they just begin to open, add the shrimp and king crab, tossing to coat in sauce, then lay the fish fillets on top. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the shrimp and fish are opaque.
Turn off the heat and stir in the butter until incorporated. Taste the broth and add more salt and pepper only if needed.
Garnish with parsley and serve immediately!
Tips for success
- Since the seafood adds a lot of natural saltiness to this dish, be careful not to add too much salt when seasoning. Go light with the sea salt until the end when you can taste it and decide if it needs more.
- Layering the seafood in the specific order is important so that it all cooks perfectly.
- The key to a great cioppino is serving it right when the fish is cooked. The fish and shellfish only need a few minutes to cook, and overcooking will make it tough and dry instead of tender and succulent seafood.
- Swap any of the seafood recommended for more of your favorites. This dish is very customizable, so add more or less seafood as you wish!
Cioppino is a hearty one-pot meal that doesn't require anything else to make it complete except for a big piece of crusty San Francisco sourdough bread for sopping up the delicious broth. A glass of white or red wine doesn't hurt either!
You could also serve it with buttery garlic bread, or keep it simple with oyster crackers or saltines.
If you'd like to serve some vegetables on the side, try some sautéed escarole, spinach or broccoli rabe. Or start the meal with a salad, like this warm spinach salad with pancetta and goat cheese or a classic kale Caesar.
While both seafood stews have tomatoes, cioppino is an Italian American recipe made with a rich tomato-based broth. Bouillabaisse is a French recipe and has a white fish-stock-based broth with fresh tomatoes.
If you have extra seafood stew, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
To reheat the cioppino, add the amount you want to warm up to a pot on the stove. Remove the shrimp and clams before reheating, as these tend to get rubbery quickly if overcooked. Heat over medium-low heat until hot, then add the shrimp and clams back to the pot so that they just warm through.
The name Cioppino is believed to have come from Cacciucco, which is an Italian seafood stew made in Tuscany and Liguria in Italy. Some also say cioppino comes from the word "ciuppin," which means chopped or "torn to pieces" in Ligurian dialect.
Did you LOVE this recipe? Please leave a star ⭐️ rating and comment to let other readers know! I absolutely love hearing from you and do my best to answer all questions and comments. I love seeing your creations so please tag me on Instagram @ColeyCooks!