Cioppino is an Italian American classic. While many people believe the dish originated in Italy, it actually originated in San Francisco and was made famous in the 1850s by Genoese immigrant Giuseppe Bazzuro and his abandoned ship turned Italian restaurant bearing his name. Originally, the dish was a purée of cooked vegetables and leftover fish scraps. Over the years, it has transformed into a luscious stew using local delectable shell fish such as dungeness crab, briny prawns, and sweet small shrimp, along with heaps of clams, mussels, and chunks of flaky fish. All of this is simmered with lots of tomatoes and wine. Although you won’t find the same dish in Italy, it is similar to many shellfish soups found along the Mediterranean coast, such as cacciucco, brodetto and bouillabaisse to name a few.
Many people claim the name “Cioppino” comes from the Italian word cuppin, meaning little soup. A more entertaining story as to the derivation of the name is that a common call along San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Warf was “chip-in,” allegedly a call for San Francisco’s mainly Italian immigrant fisherman coming home with their daily catch to donate a small portion of their catch for a communal fish stew prepared on the docks. Anything would do and the meal would be shared among the fisherman who would talk about the day’s catch and dunk San Francisco Sour Dough bread into the rich broth. Eventually the broken English cries of chip-in turned into “chip-in-O,” which ultimately became “Cioppino.”
Cioppino is generally served with the shellfish cut in half with the shells still on and the mussels and clams still in their shells thereby necessitating special utensils, i.e. cocktail forks, crab crackers and the like. Baby Lady doesn’t like having to get her hands messy during dinner so I remove all the shells when assembling. This undoubtedly is one of those dishes made in heaven. Serve with a large chunk of bread, preferably a nice sourdough. We hope you try it.
- ¾ cup butter
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 (14.5-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
- 2 pints of fish or shrimp stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup water
- 1½ cups white wine
- 1½ pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1½ pounds scallops
- 18 littleneck clams, cleaned and purged
- 18 mussels, debearded, cleaned and purged
- 1½ cups lump crabmeat
- 1½ pounds fish (swordfish, halibut, snapper, or cod), cubed
Over medium-low heat, melt butter in a large stockpot. Add onions, garlic, and parsley. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally until onions are soft. Add tomatoes to the pot (break them into chunks as you add them). Add stock, bay leaves, basil, thyme, oregano, water, and wine. Mix well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and crabmeat. Stir in fish. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer five to seven minutes until clams and mussels open. Ladle Cioppino into bowls and serve with warm, crusty sourdough bread.