When Erin and I first started dating she told me about how she would love if we could cook something together one night. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too into the idea at first. I tend to be a kitchen Nazi and like things done my way or you aint eating, I’m slowly working on overcoming that. But being that I wanted to make her happy, and we were still in that impressionistic phase, I said “Sure, lets give it a try, what do you have in mind”, with my most reassuring voice. At that point she proceeds to pull out this small pink leather cookbook that her mom had put together for her when Erin moved to NYC and says “Let’s take a look in here!”
I was in awe when I opened it. It was a collection of recipes her mom had perfected and written by hand into the pink lined note book. First off I was impressed, the penmanship was out of control, not like my mom’s scribble (we’ll leave that for another time). Second, there were so many different recipes that sounded so good and you can tell they were tried and tested. As we were flipping through it one recipe popped out right away… Cioppino. I looked over at Erin and I just let her know “We are gonna rock through this recipe together tomorrow afternoon!” with the excitement of a fat kid in a candy store. Erin seemed just as excited telling me it was one of her favorite dishes, as it is mine. Just then I realized maybe this wasn’t gonna be so bad after all.
The dish originates in San Francisco, it’s beginnings attributed to Istrian & Venetian fisherman who worked the SF Bay and would “chip in” their random scraps of seafood they couldn’t sell at the end of their long days. They took these scraps and would make a spicy tomato based stew that was reminiscent of Istrian & Northern Italian seafood brodetto. Side Note: The most authentic Cioppino is served in SF at Istrian run Tadich Grill, yeah my people are all over this dish. This of course is a match made in heaven for me. Fresh fish, shell fish, spicy broth with just enough of a brine to remind you that this is what the ocean should taste like.
That one night was the first of many where we made this dish and started a new tradition of cooking together, although I still won’t let her use the really sharp knives. When we make Cioppino we will go out to a really good fish market together, stock up on fresh fish & shell fish and come right home to get it cooking. I have to say this recipe has become a staple in our house during the winters and early springs. If you like seafood and warm stews this is gonna be your go to after a few tries.
Cioppino (Special thanks to Denise Wolf)
Before I get into the recipe I want to stress one thing, make sure to buy good quality seafood. Don’t be buying some garbage from Associated, you know that scary half frozen fish wrapped in blue Styrofoam trays. There are plenty of really good fish mongers in Brooklyn. One of my favorites is Carroll Gardens Fish Market. Take the extra time speak to the people in the store, ask them what they have that is the freshest and inspect the fish. Also feel free to substitute for the actual fish part in the recipe. We tend to go with Flounder or Striped Bass, use whatever looks the freshest at the store.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp of red paper flakes
- 2 small tins of anchovies drained of oil
- 6 garlic cloves mashed in a mortar & pestle
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 stalks of celery chopped to 1/4″ pieces
- 1 medium onion chopped to 1/4″ pieces
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4oz of chicken or fish stock
- 1 can (32oz) of crushed tomatoes
- leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme (stems removed)
- 1 handful of flat leaf parsley roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 lbs of flounder or stripped bass filets cut to 2″ x 2″ pieces
- 8 large peeled and cleaned jumbo shrimp (or do 12-14 medium size shrimp)
- 8 sea scallops
- 16-20 scrubbed and cleaned mussels
- 1/2 lb of lump crab meat (preferably dungeoness)
- salt & pepper to taste
In a medium size Dutch over medium-high heat the olive oil and drop in all the anchovie filets. Mix them until they “melt” into the hot oil. Next add the garlic, bay leaf and red pepper flakes. Let these sizzle a bit to bloom into the oil giving it some body & character. Add your chopped onions and chopped celery into the seasoned oil. Stir well until they soften and become a bit translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Turning the heat to medium slowly pour in your white wine. If there are any chunks stuck to the pot use the wine to deglaze it. Cook for another minute and then add your tomatoes, stock, parsley and thyme. Lower the heat to medium low and let the mixture simmer until you see tiny bubble on the edge of the pot, about 3-4 minutes. Ok now you are going to start to add the seafood. Don’t fuss with it too much after this part and don’t even be tempted to reach for a mixing spoon beyond this point. Season your cut up fish filets with salt and pepper on both sides and drop the individual pieces into the mixture in the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes and give the pot a little “side to side shake” every 2 minutes. DO NOT MIX IT WITH A SPOON, I know you were tempted to, if you do you are gonna mess this all up. Next add the shrimp, crab meat, mussels and scallops and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes shaking every 2 minutes or so. Lift open the cover and discard any of the mussels that have not opened. Turn the heat off and let the Cioppino rest covered for 2-3 minutes. During that time toast up some olive oil and garlic rubbed toast points or baguette slices. And you are ready to serve.
Once you ladle this into a bowl you will smell all the aromatics with that tinge of fresh ocean spray. The seafood will all be perfectly cooked, and not over cooked. The first bite should give you a taste of briny and spicy broth followed by the sweetness of the crab meat and mussels. This multi-layer seafood experience followed by the warm and tasty broth is one never to forget or deny yourself.
Now this dish will set you back a few bucks, do not buy cheap seafood, so its best to invite 4 other people over to eat it. I recommend making this for an intimate late fall or early spring dinner party. Or you can just be greedy that Saturday night and stuff your face full of amazing Cioppino… trust me you won’t regret it one bit… we do it all the time.