Let’s say it together chia, like the pet, peeno. Most recipes I offer here on Home Ec 101 are budget friendly in nature. This one isn’t, unless you happen on some rocking seafood sales. According to Foodtimeline.org, cioppino is believed to have evolved in the San Francisco Bay area. I became a fan during my chef days. I suggest this meal for company for several reasons. The most important is seafood isn’t the same reheated.Much of the work can be done the day before leaving little actual cooking the day of your event, and while the Cioppino recipe may look intimidating the skills required are basic. Do not worry if you cannot find all of the seafood items, simply increase the amount of another or substitute a similar item. If you can’t find clams, mussels work very well, use sea or bay scallops, as long as the fish you choose has a firm white flesh, everything will be a-ok. This version has a spicy kick, if you need milder fare, simply reduce the red pepper flakes by half or more.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 onions – diced small
- 4 garlic cloves – minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (reduce if needed)
- 1 1/2 tsps salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 green bell pepper diced small
- 2 TBSPs tomato paste
- 1 1/2 cups red wine (dry is best, but I usually only have cabernet or shiraz on hand)
- 1 28oz can whole plum tomatoes
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 lb dungenness crab, thawed if frozen
- 12 small (2-inch) hard-shelled clams such as littlenecks
- 1 pound skinless halibut fillets, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 pound shrimp (16 to 20), shelled and deveined
- 1 pound scallops (if you use sea scallops remove the tough muscle from the side of each)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
In a large pot, an 8qt stock pot is perfect, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the diced onion, garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, bay leaf, salt, and black pepper. Cook for about three minutes, stirring occasionally, the onion should just start to get soft. It’s important to add the spices at the start, as the heat releases the flavor from the spices and peppers, infusing them into the olive oil. It would be a very different experience if the bay leaf, oregano, and crushed red pepper were added as an afterthought.
Add the tomato paste and bell pepper and cook for another two minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Once simmering the liquid volume should be reduced by about half, this will take from 5 – 10 minutes, stir occasionally, but don’t get worked up worrying whether or not it is exactly half. It is an estimation. This concentrates the flavors in the soup base. While the base is simmering drain the can of tomatoes into a container (you need the juice!) and roughly chop them into bite sized pieces. Get your chicken broth and clam juice ready, too. Once the liquid volume has reduced by half, add the tomatoes, tomato juice, clam juice, and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to be sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of your pot. It’d be downright depressing to get this far.
If you are making the soup ahead of time, this is the point to cool it and store until needed. If you are not cooking ahead of time, get the seafood ready while the base simmers. Break the crab into somewhat even pieces. I divide by the number of guests making sure everyone at least gets one leg. Scrub the clams or mussels, rinse them again just in case. With the money going into this meal, you do not want it ruined by grit. OK, just one more rinse to be sure. Cut the halibut into 1″ chunks and sprinkle very lightly with salt. Toss the scallops and shrimp together and also sprinkle them very lightly with salt. Before adding the seafood make sure you have a slotted spoon or tongs nearby and two bowls you’ll need these to remove the clams during the next few steps.
First, with the base still simmering, add the clams, shells and all, and the crab. Cover and cook for five minutes. After five minutes, set the crab legs aside in one of your bowls and begin fishing out the open clams. I remove the crab, as it just gets in the way for this part. We do this in stages because we don’t want to overcook the clams and have them turn to rubber. If ten minutes have passed and any of the clams are still tightly closed, discard the clams,they aren’t good to eat.
After all the clams have been set aside, add the basil and optional parsley, then add the fish followed by the shrimp and scallops.
Add the crab back to the pot. Cook for 3 – 5 minutes. After three minutes look carefully at one of the shrimp, if it is pink and the flesh is firm add the clams and give the soup a good stir, remove from the heat.
Serve immediately and don’t forget a small plate at each setting for discarded shells.