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One Pot Cioppino, Party Size!

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It’s that time of year in the Central Valley when, as most of you know, the crab feed season is beginning. No, we don’t catch them here in the Valley, but we do eat a lot of them here. It’s how most of the youth groups and fund-raising organizations try to raise funds for their cause. 

At times it seems like there are at least three or four crab feeds every weekend for three or four months. These crab feeds are always amazing, and you always feel good about helping out these organizations by not only buying dinner tickets but also raffle tickets and bidding on the silent auction items. 

Toward the end of these crab feeds, you usually get an opportunity to buy a bag of the leftover crab. If you don’t like crab the second day, there’s always a magnificent stew you can make with it and other types of shellfish and white fish. It’s called Cioppino. This fish stew was invented in San Francisco in the late 1800s by an Italian immigrant. The stew is made as a tomato-based stew; it often was made with the leftover catch of the day. It contained crab, shrimp, clams and white fish combined with onions, garlic and tomatoes, cooked with olive oil and wine. Like most soups or stews they can have a variety of vegetables, meats, liquids and seasonings. 

Over the years, many variations of this recipe have evolved by different cooks adding their favorite seasonings. This stew has become a pot of delightful ambrosia of seafood goodness. The thing they all seem to have in common is crab, shrimp and bottom or white fish. The fish combination, along with any other seafood that your family favors, can be added to make this stew your own. You can find a few cioppino feeds in the area, but not very many, so I started making it for my
own family. 

After adjusting my recipe and several attempts, I began creating my own version. It worked out so well that when my husband turned 50 I had a surprise birthday for him and made cioppino. We fed about 70 people and it was a huge hit. This was a wonderful get-together with great friends and family. I could have never pulled off this surprise without their help! So to all of the great friends and family who helped me, I once again thank you and I am sharing my recipe in honor of you. 

Although this recipe is not for 70 people, it can be adjusted if you are ready to have a huge party.

(Serves 20)

6 crabs pre-cooked, cleaned and cracked
1 ½ lbs. uncooked prawns, cleaned and deveined; leave on tail (add last)
20 small or littleneck clams (soak in salt water to release sand and rinse; repeat 3 times)
½ lb. bay scallops, washed (if you have large scallops you may want to cut them in half)
2 lbs. halibut or cod cut in 2 inch chunks (this is to thicken the broth)

Chop everything by hand; do not use a food processor
6-8 white onions, chopped
½ cup carrots, diced in small pieces
½ cup celery, diced in small pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced in ¼-inch pieces
2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 fennel bulb, diced
2 bay leaves
3 29-oz. cans tomato sauce
Using one of the empty 29 oz. cans, add:
1 can white wine
1 can cooking dessert sherry
1 can water
12-oz. jar medium-heat salsa
Salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to taste

Use a large stock pot so you have enough room for all the sauce and seafood. This stew has a tendency to grow. Sauté onions in olive oil 10 minutes or until translucent; add garlic, parsley, carrot, celery, bell pepper and fennel, then cook another 5 minutes. Add all other sauce ingredients except the fish; it will be put in the pot at the very end of the cooking time. Add salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to taste. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. For a heavier-flavored sauce, replace white wine with a burgundy or use whatever wine you have. The sauce will reduce and the flavors will intensify, making a rich broth for your cioppino. This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; making it in advance can save you time if you’re having a party. 

Now it’s time to begin adding the fish to the pot. Start with the halibut or cod; it will take roughly an hour to reduce the fish for thickening the sauce. The fish will break apart and thicken the sauce, and it will look a little lighter in color. Add crab; heat through, then add the clams until slightly open. Last, add prawns and scallops and cook until shrimp turns pink. 

Like most soups and stews, you add ingredients or take ingredients out to make it your own. Sometimes I use more crab or shrimp because they are my family’s favorite part of this stew. If adding more fish, adjust your liquid; the more fish, the more liquid needed. The liquid could be more wine or water, but add just enough to cover the fish so it will cook evenly. Be careful not to add too much; you don’t want to change the flavor of the rich sauce you just created. Some people also add lobster tails and mussels, but again, this is your preference. 

This recipe is for 20 guests, and it has always been a great way to entertain for a dinner party. I start with cheese platters and wine, then serve cioppino and bread and finish up with a warm cobbler and ice cream. No one will be disappointed, and no one will forget the great food.

Today I made a half recipe of this cioppino stew for dinner. Now that my house smells amazing and I just pulled the warm French bread out of the oven, I’m going to sit down and enjoy one of the cherished meals on a card in my recipe box.