Dutch Oven · New England · recipe

Cioppino: San Francisco’s Fish Stew


Cioppino: Italian Fish Stew
Cioppino: Italian Fish Stew

Even though I haven’t visited The City by the Bay in years, I have never lost affection for all that San Francisco has to offer.  I don’t just want to visit again…I yearn to be there…and, yes, it’s that wonderful a place!

But here I am all the way over on the East Coast and every once in a while I just need something that is quintessentially San Franciscan.  What’s a girl to do?

I solved my dilemma–once again–by getting out my Dutch Oven and setting to work on an absolutely soul satisfying fish stew–that is known as Cioppino.

For the record, you pronounce Cioppino “Chip (soft p) Pee No” and it is a well known San Francisco treat.  The great thing about Cioppino is it influenced by whatever the fresh catch is.  For example, in San Francisco, which is on the Pacific, you’d probably always expect a nice amount of Dungeness in your bowl of Cioppino.  But–over here on the East Coast where crab is not as prevalent–we could use shrimp or even Maine lobster tails! That’s the true beauty of Cioppino!  It’s left up to you–dear cook–to find the best ingredients for your stew, so do keep that in mind when you are purchasing your fish for this dish.

There is one other important point I’d like to make about Cioppino or any other soup or stew, for that matter.  Most good soup makers know that almost all homemade soups, chowders, and stews benefit from a little aging.  With a day or two of resting, you allow all of the flavors to meld together, which gives the completed soup amazing depth.  With that in mind, I have broken the recipe up into two sections.  If you have the time, make the broth a day or two ahead.  When you are ready to make the full stew, reheat the broth and add the solid ingredients.

Don’t have time to wait? That’s okay, too.  Even if prepared all on the same day, this recipe is still a winner!

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Ingredients for the Broth:

  • olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 bottles (8 ounces each) clam juice (located near the tuna fish and other canned fish)
  • 28 ounce can small diced or crushed tomatoes (I prefer the diced)
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to your preference

How to prepare the broth:

  1. Begin by heating your Dutch Oven over medium high heat for a minute.  Add the olive oil and warm a minute more.
  2. Add the onion and cook until softened.  Once onion is softened, add the garlic, oregano, basil and pepper flakes and allow to simmer over low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant.
  3. Add the wine and bring to a boil, cooking until the wine is reduced by half.
  4. Add the tomatoes.  Stir well and cook for 20 minutes over medium heat.
  5. When thickened, add the clam juice, bay leaves and the water.  Season to taste.
  6. Bring broth to a boil then return to simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  Remove the bay leaves.

For best results, make your broth a day or two ahead of preparing the entire dish and allow it to chill.  You can, of course, use the broth immediately if you must.


Completed Cioppino ready for the bowl
Completed Cioppino ready for the bowl

Ingredients for Completed Stew:

  • Broth, prepared ahead of time and allowed to age for up to two days
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds of shellfish such as mussels, clams or cherrystones, de-bearded, rinsed and drained (I used fresh PEI mussels and some good looking cherrystones)
  • 1 pound of large shrimp, peeled (except for the tail) and deveined OR 1 pound fresh crab–or some combination of both to equal about a pound
  • 1 pound firm white ocean fish, cut into generous pieces (I used cod)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh sourdough bread

Completing the stew:

  1. Have your broth ready.  If you have let it rest, heat it to a low simmer…gently.
  2. In a large (7 quart) Dutch Oven or pot, heat your olive oil and then add the shallot.  Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until shallot is softened.  Add the sliced garlic and cook for another minute or so–until fragrant–but do not let the garlic burn.  Hint: Use your big pot…you will need it at the end, trust me!
  3. To the pan add your mussels, clams or cherrystones and the wine.  Cover and cook until the shells open, which will take 4-5 minutes.
  4. Check your shellfish to make sure they have all opened.  Discard any that do not.
  5. Add the prepared broth to the shellfish and bring to a simmer.
  6. When at a simmer, add the fish chunks and shrimp.  Cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes.
  7. Stir in the butter cubes and check your seasonings, adjusting as necessary.
  8. Serve “family style” with fresh or toasted sourdough bread, which is used for dipping

Special note:

Although this dish can be a little expensive to make and requires some patience, it is totally worth it!

In fact…if I were a mermaid, I’d insist on it every night!

Cioppino: Italian Fish Stew
Cioppino: Italian Fish Stew


One thought on “Cioppino: San Francisco’s Fish Stew

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