Boston loves a great Clam Bake, New York its Manhattan Chowder, and New Orleans its Oysters Rockefeller. But San Francisco loves a hearty steaming bowl of Cioppino.
Cioppino first appeared in the late 1800s thanks to the Italian fishermen who had settled in the North Shore neighborhood of San Francisco. Because many of the new immigrants came from the northern port city of Genoa, they were outstanding fishermen with a taste for seafood locally sourced fresh from nearby waters.
Originally Cioppino was known as “Ciuppin” in Italy, a word meaning "to chop," which described the process the fishermen used to make their ship board stew. Each day they chopped up the various leftovers of the day's catch and slow cooking the ingredients until the ingredients almost fall apart.
In San Francisco this tradition was altered as many famous dishes were as they became part of American cuisine. Fresh mussels and clams took center stage in the recipe, replacing the unavailable Mediterranean fish. Tomatoes, indigenous to America, further enriched the new dish.
Along with the new ingredients came the dish’s new name and new techniques. Americans soon converting the original Italian word into “Cioppino” meaning they thought “to chip in”. San Francisco chefs wisely chose to use choice ingredients, instead of leftovers from the day’s catch.
San Francisco’s insightful chefs also chose to cook their Cioppino only briefly until done and to serve the mussel and clam shells in the diner’s bowl for added visual effect. As a result, both a shellfish fork and a shell cracker are offered with the finished Cioppino as well as a bib or large napkin to protect the diner from tomato broth stains.
How beloved is this once dockside stew in San Francisco? Today Ciopinno is proudly served in some of San Francisco’s grandest restaurant as well as a traditional dish enjoyed in thousands of homes on Christmas Day.
With fresh shellfish now available to chefs from coast to coast, no menu should omit sharing this outstanding dish with diners. Enjoy!
CIOPPINO (SERVES 4-6)
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
- 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 cups fish stock
- 1 1⁄2 cups whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
- 10 leaves basil
- 16 Taylor Manila Clams
- 16 Taylor Mediterranean Mussels
- 12 oz. bay scallops
- 12 oz. medium shrimp, deveined
- 1 lb. cleaned calamari, bodies cut into 1⁄2″-wide rings
- 1 lb. cod, cut into 2″ chunks
- 2 (2-lb.) Dungeness crabs or snow crab legs, halved
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat oil in an 8-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Add chili flakes and garlic; cook until soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add stock, tomatoes, and basil; boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Add Taylor Clams and Mussels, cod, calamari, shrimp, scallops, and crabs.
- Cover with lid, and cook until seafood is cooked through, about 8 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.