Cioppino (Seafood Soup)


Cioppino with dungeness crab, shrimp, manila clams, and sea bass.

Christmas for our family is a holiday for all of us to come together and share an entire day of food; it also happens to be my mother’s birthday. Since she’s more of a pescatarian than a carnivore, traditional Christmas dinners like ham and goose aren’t really her cup of tea.

Cioppino with Manila clams, dungeness crab, sea bass, and shrimp

That’s why I decided to do a Cioppino for her this year. It’s a seafood soup similar to bouillabaisse and brodetto that grew up in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. While more colourful creation myths credit the name to a heavy Italian accent and the phrase “chip in” (as in “chip in your seafood”), the more widely accepted theory is that the name comes from a nearly identical Italian soup from the port city of Genoa called “Ciuppin”. Whatever the case, the use of live Dungeness Crabs (which are currently in season), makes this a dish that’s uniquely San Franciscan.

This is a no-holds-barred Cioppino that starts with a richly sweet fish bone and shrimp head stock. The broth comes out naturally sweet and almost creamy from the roe inside the crab and shrimp. It would make a heavenly consommé on it’s own, but my philosophy on soups is that you can never have too much flavour, so a small fishing trawler worth of seafood goes into the Cioppino along with extra aromatics, and a one-two punch of umami coming from tomatoes and anchovies.

I won’t lie to you, the seafood for this cost nearly $100 at a Chinese supermarket (i.e. you’ll pay a lot more at Whole Foods), and it’s certainly not a quick weeknight meal. That said, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that will give you enough seafood to feed 6 people for a hundred bucks, unless you happen to live on a fishing boat. Besides, the effort involved is of a more lackadaisical variety, giving you plenty of time to catch a relative up on life in the past year, while sipping a glass of Barolo.

My advice is to use live crab if you can find it, and if you’re squeamish about deconstructing a live crustacean, throw it in the freezer just long enough to put it to sleep (but not long enough to freeze it). And whatever you do, please don’t give him a name like crusty the crustacean and let him do a little dance for you on your counter top with those big innocent looking antena-eyes, or else you might find yourself spending dinner at the ocean setting your meal free.

Cioppino

for fish stock
2 medium onions chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
1 medium parsnip chopped
1/2 head garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
1 750ml bottle of white wine that’s not too sweet or acidic (pinot grigio works well)
6 C water
2 lbs fish bones and heads chopped into chunks (red snapper works well)
1.5 lbs large shrimp with heads (preferably with orange roe)
2 live dungeness crab
handful of fresh thyme
1 large sprig of fresh oregano
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs kosher salt (less if you use regular salt)

for Cioppino
2 small onions chopped
5 cloves garlic pressed
2 roma tomatoes chopped with seeds
1/3 C chopped basil
1.5 kg (53 oz) Italian stewed tomatoes in juice crushed with hands
1 Tbs minced anchovy
2 lbs red snapper or sea bass cut into large chunks
3 lbs live manilla clams

chervil or flat leaf parsley for garnish

Remove the heads from the shrimp as well as the legs and shells, but leave the tails on. Set the shells aside for the stock, then devein the shrimp by making a shallow incision along the back side of the shrimp from head to tail and removing any brown “gunk”.

Remove the legs and claws from the crab by twisting and pulling, this will subdue the poor guy pretty quickly. Remove the little flap on the underside of the crab then pry the top shell away from the body, reserving for the stock. Use a wrench or nutcracker to crack the legs and claws. Cut each body into 4 segments. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat a large stockpot over medium heat until hot. Add about 2 Tbs of olive oil then add the onions, celery, parsnips, and garlic. Fry until soft, fragrant and starting to brown around the edges. Add the wine and turn up to heat to bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol then add the water, fish bones, shrimp heads/shells, the top shells of the crab, thyme, oregano, parsley, bay leaves, and salt. Bring this to a boil and skim off any foam that accumulates on the surface. Once there is no more foam forming, turn the heat down to medium low, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Strain through a colander and press on the solids with a potato masher to get every last bit of stock out. Discard the solids.

Rinse the pot, place over medium heat and add a splash of oil. Fry the onions and garlic until soft and fragrant, then add the tomatoes and basil. Return the fish stock you made to the pot along with the crushed stewed tomatoes, and anchovy, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium low then add the crab*, snapper, and clams and cover the pot. Let this simmer until the clams are open and the fish is cooked (about 10 minutes). Add the shrimp and continue cooking until the shrimp just turn pink (another minute or two).

Serve the Cioppino in large bowls with some chopped parsley or chervil to garnish, and a big hunk of crusty sourdough bread.

*Note: if you use precooked crab, add it in at the very end along with the shrimp

  • http://maclarty.blogspot.com/ Koek!

    Oh wow – that looks so delicious!

  • http://maclarty.blogspot.com/ Koek!

    Oh wow – that looks so delicious!

  • http://pithyandcleaver.com/ maggie

    These photos are so gorgeous! We actually make cioppino every year for Christmas eve—perfect since Dungeness crab are in season (in the NW) and it’s so warming and festive. It’s also good with chunks of halibut, and sometimes my mother adds a bit of flaked smoked salmon (not lox) for a smoky flavor.

  • http://pithyandcleaver.com maggie

    These photos are so gorgeous! We actually make cioppino every year for Christmas eve—perfect since Dungeness crab are in season (in the NW) and it’s so warming and festive. It’s also good with chunks of halibut, and sometimes my mother adds a bit of flaked smoked salmon (not lox) for a smoky flavor.

  • http://foodmayhem.com/ Jessica@FoodMayhem

    That looks wonderful and reminds me that the best Cioppino I’ve had was probably in SF.
    Are you branding your own “noregano”? JK

  • http://foodmayhem.com Jessica@FoodMayhem

    That looks wonderful and reminds me that the best Cioppino I’ve had was probably in SF.
    Are you branding your own “noregano”? JK

  • http://lisaiscooking.blogspot.com/ lisaiscooking

    This sounds like an amazing cioppino! Love the abundance of seafood, and the anchovies must add great flavor.

  • http://lisaiscooking.blogspot.com lisaiscooking

    This sounds like an amazing cioppino! Love the abundance of seafood, and the anchovies must add great flavor.

  • http://cookingbytheseatofmypants.com/ Jerry (CBSOP)

    Oh that looks like a mouthful of love and joy! Had I not just spent nearly the same amount making goose and figgy pudding I’d be down at the local fishmongers to pick up some ingredients… Perhaps in the spring. Yeah, that’s it, but I’ll have to have some friends over

  • http://cookingbytheseatofmypants.com Jerry (CBSOP)

    Oh that looks like a mouthful of love and joy! Had I not just spent nearly the same amount making goose and figgy pudding I’d be down at the local fishmongers to pick up some ingredients… Perhaps in the spring. Yeah, that’s it, but I’ll have to have some friends over

  • http://deltakitchen.blogspot.com/ Andreas

    What a festive Christmas and birthday dinner.

  • http://deltakitchen.blogspot.com/ Andreas

    What a festive Christmas and birthday dinner.

  • http://trissalicious.com/ Trissa

    I like your Mom’s style. It’s nice to have seafood during the holidays for a change. I think I ate too much meat this season. But it’s likely I WON’T wait till next holiday season to try this dish.

  • http://trissalicious.com Trissa

    I like your Mom’s style. It’s nice to have seafood during the holidays for a change. I think I ate too much meat this season. But it’s likely I WON’T wait till next holiday season to try this dish.

  • http://www.honeyfromrock.blogspot.com/ Claudia

    Your recipe sounds like the Real Deal. I’ve rarely had a really good cioppino, most have been bad or in-between. Why is it, I wonder, that restaurants so frequently don’t get it right? If not, they shouldn’t bother at all. The only reason for not doing it myself, is that my husband doesn’t care for fish.

  • http://www.honeyfromrock.blogspot.com Claudia

    Your recipe sounds like the Real Deal. I’ve rarely had a really good cioppino, most have been bad or in-between. Why is it, I wonder, that restaurants so frequently don’t get it right? If not, they shouldn’t bother at all. The only reason for not doing it myself, is that my husband doesn’t care for fish.

  • http://foodhappens.blogspot.com/ lo

    OK, I must admit that the Crusty the Crustacean joke made me smirk. But, just a bit.

    I’m also just a little bit in love with your mom. That cioppino looks just excellent — wouldn’t be half as good without all those delicious bites of seafood.

  • http://foodhappens.blogspot.com lo

    OK, I must admit that the Crusty the Crustacean joke made me smirk. But, just a bit.

    I’m also just a little bit in love with your mom. That cioppino looks just excellent — wouldn’t be half as good without all those delicious bites of seafood.

  • http://colloquialcooking.com/ Colloquial Cook

    Whaaaaaaat? No dance on the countertop? Even if the crab wears sexy *fishnet* stockings?

    [ok, going to hide in the pantry now]

  • http://colloquialcooking.com Colloquial Cook

    Whaaaaaaat? No dance on the countertop? Even if the crab wears sexy *fishnet* stockings?

    [ok, going to hide in the pantry now]

  • http://www.hollyhadsellentertaining.com/ Holly

    I love seafood soups but don’t make them a lot because my son is allergic to shellfish. This looks so good.

  • http://www.hollyhadsellentertaining.com/ Holly

    I love seafood soups but don’t make them a lot because my son is allergic to shellfish. This looks so good.

  • http://rasamalaysia.com/ Rasa Malaysia

    Gorgeous, I really love Cioppino, it’s the best.

  • http://rasamalaysia.com Rasa Malaysia

    Gorgeous, I really love Cioppino, it’s the best.

  • http://freshlocalandbest.blogspot.com/ Christine @Fresh Local and Bes

    Cioppino is my favorite seafood soup. I spend months saving fish heads, and enough shrimp shells in the freezer so that I can make a rich seafood broth. I’ve made a couple of versions that have included lobster and/or crab, I’ll have to try your version.
    I hope that it isn’t true that people name their crabs. One time my husband put two lobsters on the counter to have them race to the end. Poor lobsters, I put an end to that nonsense and took them away.

  • http://freshlocalandbest.blogspot.com Christine @Fresh Local and Best

    Cioppino is my favorite seafood soup. I spend months saving fish heads, and enough shrimp shells in the freezer so that I can make a rich seafood broth. I’ve made a couple of versions that have included lobster and/or crab, I’ll have to try your version.
    I hope that it isn’t true that people name their crabs. One time my husband put two lobsters on the counter to have them race to the end. Poor lobsters, I put an end to that nonsense and took them away.

  • http://foodgourmand.blogspot.com/ Karine

    This seems fantastic! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://foodgourmand.blogspot.com Karine

    This seems fantastic! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://www.MyOwnSweetThyme.com Lisa

    I love Cioppino. Your recipe is a bit more complicated than mine, and no doubt that much more delicious. We also usually serve it at Christmas. It seems like the perfect holiday dish, so festive and richly flavorful. Beautiful!

  • http://www.MyOwnSweetThyme.com/ Lisa

    I love Cioppino. Your recipe is a bit more complicated than mine, and no doubt that much more delicious. We also usually serve it at Christmas. It seems like the perfect holiday dish, so festive and richly flavorful. Beautiful!

  • http://www.kalofagas.ca/ Peter

    When I go back to San Francisco, Cioppino will be one of the dishes to enjoy again. Thanks for bringing a little of the Left Coast back!

  • http://www.kalofagas.ca Peter

    When I go back to San Francisco, Cioppino will be one of the dishes to enjoy again. Thanks for bringing a little of the Left Coast back!

  • http://www.sevenspoons.net/ tara

    I nearly passed out at that picture. Seriously, can I come over? I’ll even do the grocery run.

  • http://www.sevenspoons.net tara

    I nearly passed out at that picture. Seriously, can I come over? I’ll even do the grocery run.

  • http://www.sugarbar.org/ diva

    thank you for another amazing post. Every time I stop by, I learn a new thing or dish or fact about a certain ingredient. It’s wonderful! There’s no blog like yours :) x

  • http://www.sugarbar.org diva

    thank you for another amazing post. Every time I stop by, I learn a new thing or dish or fact about a certain ingredient. It’s wonderful! There’s no blog like yours :) x

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com/ we are never full

    beautiful pictures! i like the addition of the parsnips. this is one of those rustic meals that gets my heart (and stomach) going.

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com we are never full

    beautiful pictures! i like the addition of the parsnips. this is one of those rustic meals that gets my heart (and stomach) going.

  • http://tastewiththeeyes.blogspot.com/ Lori Lynn

    I’ve never worked with a live crab…
    Your soup looks fabulous! Congrats on Top 9!
    LL

  • http://tastewiththeeyes.blogspot.com/ Lori Lynn

    I’ve never worked with a live crab…
    Your soup looks fabulous! Congrats on Top 9!
    LL

  • http://slwbicycle.blogspot.com/2009/04/traditional-italian-pasta-carbonara.html Gina – The Gluten-Free Gourman

    I had Cioppino at a restaurant served with a pyramid of risotto inside the bowl. Thanks for the pointers – I haven’t made Cioppino myself before, and probably would not have thought to dismantle a live crab if I’d made up the recipe myself! Dungeness is a really good price in Oregon right now. I’ll have to seriously consider this.

  • http://slwbicycle.blogspot.com/2009/04/traditional-italian-pasta-carbonara.html Gina – The Gluten-Free Gourmand

    I had Cioppino at a restaurant served with a pyramid of risotto inside the bowl. Thanks for the pointers – I haven’t made Cioppino myself before, and probably would not have thought to dismantle a live crab if I’d made up the recipe myself! Dungeness is a really good price in Oregon right now. I’ll have to seriously consider this.

  • http://www.siliconvalleysousvide.blogspot.com SiliconValleySousVide

    Looks fantastic!  I love Cioppino and will definitely try this.  I think there’s all sorts of flexibility on the ingredients!  Thanks.

  • Alexander Dawson

    how much will it cost cioppino stew

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Since the cost of seafood varies by location and season it’s going to depend entirely on where you live. Your best bet is to head down to your local fish monger with a list and ask them.

  • Lexi

    I don’t think I could hurt the crab while its still alive, why wouldn’t you start with a dead one?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      You could stick the crab in the freezer for a bit (not long enough to freeze it).

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