Cioppino is a fish stew derived from the various fish soups of Italian cuisine. Typically it consists of a combination of clams, shrimp, scallops, mussels and white fish with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce, often served “as is” (as a stew), or over spaghetti or other long pasta (then, usually called “zuppa de pesce”). I did not include scallops in this recipe for purely selfish reasons – I absolutely adore them, but unfortunately, I am horribly allergic!!! Feel free to throw some in if you would like – just add them at the same time that you add the shrimp. Don’t let the length of the recipe scare you off from trying this meal.
- 1 large (at least 6 quarts) stockpot or Dutch oven
- 1 slotted spoon or spatula
- 1 sieve or colander
- 1 large bowl
- 1 fork
- 1 quart water (plus an additional 1/4 cup water)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 3 sprigs parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- ¾ pound ocean perch or snapper fillets
- 1 can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 16 hard-shell clams, scrubbed and soaked
- 16 mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
- ½ pound fresh medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 pound fresh halibut or haddock fillets, skinned and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Combine 1 quart of water, wine, onions, celery, parsley sprigs and the bay leaf in a large (at least 6 quarts) stockpot or Dutch oven. With the pot covered, bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Add the perch and gently simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to remove the perch to a plate and set aside.
- Strain the stock through a sieve or colander into a large bowl (you can discard the onions, celery, parsley sprigs and bay leaf). Return the strained stock to the stockpot. Press the canned tomatoes (with juice) through the colander/sieve into the stockpot and discard the seeds. Into the stock pot, stir the tomato paste, garlic, oregano, salt, sugar and pepper.
- Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate stockpot (or a saucepan) combine the clams, mussels and remaining 1/4 cup of water; cover, and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes or until the clams and mussels open – as they open, use tongs to immediately remove them from the pan or they will be overcooked. Discard any clams and mussels with unopened shells. Rinse clams and mussels under lukewarm; set aside.
- Add the halibut, potatoes and fresh tomatoes to the soup mixture in the large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then (right after it boils) reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 12 to 15 minutes (or until potatoes are just fork-tender).
- Add the shrimp to the stockpot and cook over medium heat for just 1 to 2 minutes (just until shrimp turn opaque and pink).
- Using a fork, “flake” the reserved perch that was set aside earlier, and stir the perch, the reserved clams and mussels, and the chopped parsley into the pot until everything is heated through, and then serve immediately.
Tips and Tricks for Success:
- Fresh Seafood is Key: Use the freshest seafood available to ensure the best flavors in your Cioppino. Visit a reputable fish market or seafood counter for the best selection.
- Layer the Flavors: Build layers of flavor by sautéing the aromatic vegetables until they become tender and fragrant. This foundation will enhance the overall taste of your Cioppino.
- Simmer Slowly: Allow the stew to simmer on low heat, giving the ingredients time to meld together and develop rich flavors. Slow simmering also ensures that the seafood remains tender and doesn’t overcook.
- Timing is Everything: Add seafood to the stew in a specific order, starting with those that require the most cooking time and ending with delicate seafood that cooks quickly. This ensures that all the seafood is perfectly cooked.
- Don’t Overcook the Seafood: Avoid overcooking the seafood by removing it from the heat as soon as it turns opaque and is just cooked through. Overcooking can result in rubbery texture and loss of flavors.
Common Mistakes to Avoid:
- Overcrowding the Pot: Give the ingredients enough space to cook evenly by using a large enough pot. Overcrowding can lead to uneven cooking and loss of flavors.
- Neglecting the Broth: The flavorful broth is the heart of Cioppino. Don’t rush the process; let it simmer and develop rich flavors. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
- Reheating Seafood: If you have leftovers, be careful when reheating this dish, as seafood can become tough and rubbery when heated for too long. Gently warm the stew on low heat, stirring occasionally until heated through.
When to Serve:
Cioppino is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed on various occasions. It’s perfect for cozy family dinners, impressive date nights, or special gatherings with friends. Whether you’re hosting a casual seafood feast or aiming to impress guests with a taste of coastal elegance, this dish fits the bill.
Recommended Sides, Garnishes, and Beverages:
- Crusty Bread: Serve warm, crusty bread on the side to soak up the flavorful broth.
- Garlic-Rubbed Crostini: Add a touch of elegance by serving garlic-rubbed crostini alongside Cioppino. It’s perfect for dipping and adds a delightful crunch.
- Fresh Basil or Parsley: Sprinkle some freshly chopped basil or parsley over the stew to add a pop of color and freshness.
- White Wine: Pair Cioppino with a crisp white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, to complement the flavors of the seafood.
- Lemon Wedges: Offer lemon wedges on the side for guests to squeeze over their Cioppino, adding a refreshing citrusy kick.
Different Ways to Serve:
- Classic Bowl Presentation: Ladle the piping hot Cioppino into individual bowls and serve with the suggested sides and garnishes. Don’t forget to accompany it with crusty bread or crostini.
- Family-Style Sharing: Place a large pot of Cioppino in the center of the table and let everyone help themselves. Serve with an assortment of sides, garnishes, and bread, allowing guests to customize their bowls.
- Cioppino on Pasta: For a heartier meal, serve this dish over cooked linguine or spaghetti. The pasta will soak up the rich flavors of the stew, creating a delightful combination.
FAQs about Cioppino
Can I make this dish in advance?
Absolutely! In fact, Cioppino tastes even better when the flavors have had time to meld together. Prepare the stew in advance, refrigerate, and gently reheat before serving. Remember to store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Can I freeze this dish?
While it’s possible to freeze Cioppino, it’s recommended to consume it fresh for the best flavors and textures. The delicate seafood may not retain its optimal quality after freezing and thawing. If freezing is necessary, ensure that the stew is properly cooled and stored in freezer-safe containers for up to 3 months.
Can I substitute or add different seafood to the recipe?
Absolutely! Cioppino is a versatile dish, and you can customize the seafood based on your preferences or what is available. Popular additions include shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, or even crabmeat. Feel free to experiment and create your own unique version of this dish.
What can I do with leftover?
Leftover Cioppino is a delightful treat! Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop, stirring occasionally until heated through. You can also use the leftovers as a flavorful sauce over cooked pasta or as abase for a seafood risotto.
Is Cioppino a spicy dish?
Traditionally, Cioppino is not known for being overly spicy. However, if you enjoy a bit of heat, you can add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a dash of hot sauce to the stew while it simmers. Adjust the spiciness according to your taste preferences, but be mindful not to overpower the delicate flavors of the seafood.
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