If there's one dish that screams San Francisco to me, it's Cioppino served with a big round loaf of Sourdough bread to mop up all the juices. And while I'm home with my apron strings tied to the stove, we're eatin' Cioppino for Christmas Eve. No bouillabaisse, no moules marinière, no matelote – I want San Francisco Cioppino! I could make this dish on my little two burner stove in Paris, but it's just not the same without Dungeness crab, Tomales Bay sweet clams, and line caught halibut or ling cod.
Cioppino is the ultimate party food for grown ups. You get to eat it with your fingers, lick 'em clean, and pretend it's adult to do so. It's a fun dish with lots of energy, color, and texture: red crab legs popping out, grey clam shells bursting open, large chunks of white fish, warm chunky tomato sauce flecked with chopped green peppers, pink curly que shrimp with little fan tails. I really can't think of another dish that sets the tone right for the holidays.
If I haven't sold you on Cioppino already, then let me add that the broth can be made a day or two before your dinner party. When ready to serve, reheat and add all the fish and shellfish. It's a one pot party dish that has style, class, and loads of San Francisco history.
Note to cook: I always use a mixture of what's fresh in the market. I usually choose one firm white fish, a mixture of shellfish or just one type (clams, shrimp, cockles, scallops, etc.), and some crab. Unfortunately, my fish market was plain sold of crab for the day so I couldn't take a photo with it. Take my basic recipe and then adapt it to your area!
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley (save some for presentation)
1 can tomato sauce
1 can (12 oz) tomatoes
1 cup dry red or white wine (sometimes I use 2 cups depending on how it tastes)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 dozen fresh clams in shell
1 pound medium-size raw shrimp (around 30)
2 large Dungeness cooked crabs (2 lbs. each) cracked
1 pound firm white fish cut into large strips or chunks
1. In a large pot (at least 6 quarts), heat olive oil on medium. Add onions, garlic, celery and cook until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
2. Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes and liquid (break tomatoes with a spoon), wine, bay leaf, basil, oregano, chopped parsley, and green pepper. Cover and simmer for around 20 minutes or until thickened slightly. Cover, cool, and chill if making ahead
3. Scrub clams to remove sand and de-vein shrimp (or buy them pre-cleaned), cut fish into strips. Reheat sauce if made ahead and add all fish and shell fish. Cover and simmer on medium low heat until fish is cooked, clams open up, and shrimp is pink. Add crab to warm through.
4. Ladle into big bowls and sprinkle some extra chopped fresh parsley on top.
5. Give your guests a big white napkin that they can tie around their necks and eat up!