The idea for this tomato-based seafood stew comes from the fisherman from Genoa who immigrated to the US and settled in the Bay area of California. Cioppino was developed in San Francisco by these Italian immigrants who prepared a fish stew with what they had on their fishing boats from their daily catch.
Legend has it that requests were made as the boats came in for the day asking for any seafood to “CHIP IN ” to the pot; add Italian seasoning and hence the name: Cioppino (chip-EEN-o). Most food historians and cookbook authors don’t even try to fix the recipe in time, although all point to San Francisco as the place of origin. Cioppino wasn’t well-known beyond the Bay area (or at least outside of California) until after World War II. John Thorne…describes in the September/October 1996 issue of his newsletter, Simple Cooking, how he came upon a vintage (1921) cookbook that discusses cioppino in detail. That book, Fish Cookery, by Evelyn Spencer of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and John N. Cobb, director of the College of Fisheries at the University of Washington, offers a recipe for cioppino that had appeared three years earlier by H.B. Nidever in California Fish and Game. Thorne believes that it may be one of the first, if not the first, ever published.
In 1925 Nunzio Alioto, an Italian immigrant, set up a stall at #8 Fisherman’s Wharf to sell lunchtime provisions to the Italian laborers. His business grew and by 1932 he had constructed the first building at the corner of Taylor and Jefferson, by combining the fish stand with a seafood bar. After Nunzio passed away unexpectedly, his widow Nonna Rose and her three children took over the stall. In 1938 she installed a kitchen in the original structure and officially opened Alioto’s Restaurant. Their specialty was Cioppino.
Here is my version that I have developed over the years and one that suits my family’s taste.
Italian American Seafood Stew (Cioppino)
Serve with a green salad and some crusty Italian bread for dipping in the delicious sauce.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 cups fish stock
2 cups chopped Italian tomatoes in juice, crushed
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
2 pounds firm, skinless fish fillets (such as red snapper, grouper, swordfish, tuna, mahi-mahi or halibut), cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb shrimp, deveined
1 lb sea scallops
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup white wine
2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed and soaked to remove the sand
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Sauté 10 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, fish stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.
Add the wine to a large deep skillet and bring to a boil. Add the clams, turn the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Remove the clams as they open to a covered bowl. Discard any clams that do not open. Strain the juices in the skillet through a fine mesh colander. Set aside the clams and the strained cooking liquid.
Next add the fish pieces and shrimp to the tomato sauce, pushing them down into the liquid a little. Cover the pot and simmer for 4 minutes. Add the scallops and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the opened clams and strained wine and heat for a minute or two.
Immediately scoop the stew into large bowls, garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with Italian bread.