Cioppino is a seafood stew that sounds Italian, though it was created in San Francisco. Italian-American fisherman from the North Beach neighborhood would gather of some of this, some of that and prepare it on the fishing boats to keep themselves warm and fed. It is rich, thick and designed to uncurl the most popsicle’ed of toes.

If anyone is worried about how to say cioppino, click this and never feel bad about a thing.

Cioppino is one of those deceptively easy things you can make to impress the people in your lives. Clam and mussel shells, wide open in a sea of tomato-ness, make people feel like you went to some serious trouble. Don’t tell them otherwise! You totally deserve those oohs and ahhs.

Our cioppino is a poor man’s cioppino, and this is because I’m writing our recipe in Chicagoland. Maybe you are somewhere with better access to seafood than me? If so, add Dungeness crab, fresh scallops and/or squid. Should you decide to include any of these, adjust the recipe so that your total haul of seafood equals four and a half pounds. My recipe serves two couples and your one single friend (who is sincerely and OMG grateful for home cooking). Leftovers freeze very well, too. Cioppino pairs well with a nice simple salad and lemon tarts for dessert.

Ingredients

2 tbs. olive oil

1 tbs. butter

1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin

1 onion, chopped

3 shallots, chopped

Salt, some

5 garlic cloves, minced (or pressed)

1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper flakes, more to taste

½ c. tomato paste

1 can diced tomatoes with juice (28 oz.)

1 ½ cups white wine (chardonnay or sauvignon blanc)

¼ c. flat parsley, finely chopped

½ c. basil, finely chopped

5 c. fish stock*

2 bay leaves

1 lb. clams, fresh and scrubbed (littleneck or manila)

1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 ½ lbs. firm-fleshed fish fillets, chopped (halibut, orange roughy, red snapper, tilapia)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Basil leaves for garnish

* Can’t find seafood stock? Try one small bottle of clam juice and 3 cups of chicken broth.

In a deep pot, heat the oil and butter. Add the onions and shallots and cook until translucent. Add the fennel, garlic, bay leaves, some red pepper flakes and salt. Cook until tender. Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes with juice, wine, seafood stock, parsley and basil, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Bump up the heat a little. Just a little! Add the sorted clams and mussels to the pot, cover and cook 5-7 minutes, until they begin to open their shells. Then add the shrimp and fish, and simmer for another five minutes, until the shrimp and fish turn opaque. Stir this pot ever so gently, to keep from tearing the clams or mussels from their shells, and check to make sure all of the bivalves are now completely open. Discard any that remain closed, along with the bay leaves. Season to taste, using more red pepper flakes as you please. Serve with French or sourdough bread, for dipping.

Last, if you’re nervous about choosing clams or mussels, here are some short tutorials. This one shows you how to de-beard mussels, and this one shows you how to clean clams. If the fishmonger tries to pass off any opened shells for sale, you probably should not throw them at their head, but ask them to try again. Buy these items on the day you plan to make cioppino, or the day before. Prepare to blow minds. Enjoy!

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