I would like to call this recipe a cioppino. Cioppino is a fish stew with a San Francisco pedigree reaching back to the 1800’s. The name is derived from the Italian term ciuppin, which means “to chop.” It’s believed that the Italian and Portuguese fisherman would chop up leftovers from their daily catch to make this robust and flavorful soup. The reason why I hesitate slightly about labeling it a cioppino is that I have taken a liberty with this recipe that is neither Italian nor Portuguese at all. It’s French.
Wine is a key ingredient in the cioppino stock, and recipes gamely call for white or red, depending on the source. I usually use red wine, however in this recipe I tried white. The result was a lighter, more acidic broth that I felt needed a little oomph. Additional salt and extra pepper helped, as did a spoonful of sugar (which often works wonders in tomato-based stocks and sauces.) Still, something was missing. I looked no further than the fennel I had sautéed with the onion as a base for the stock, and I reached for the Pernod, an anise liqueur, in the back of the pantry. It was a perfect shot. The Pernod coaxed out the licorice flavor of the fennel, adding depth and roundness with subtle anise notes. So here you have it: Cioppino with a French twist.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Ouzo or Pernod
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (optional)
18 littleneck clams
18 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
6 large sea scallops, about 3/4 pound
2 cooked crabs, legs cracked, flesh removed from bodies
1 pound firm fleshed white fish such as halibut or sea bass, cut in 2 inch chunks
Fresh Italian parsley
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft and onion is translucent without coloring, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant. Stir in tomato paste to combine, and then add the tomatoes, wine, chicken stock, Pernod, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If necessary add a spoonful of sugar. Add clams. Cook, stirring, until they open. (Discard any clams that do not open.) Add shrimp, sea scallops and white fish. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until all of the fish is cooked through. Add crab legs and meat. Simmer to heat through. Serve hot in bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley.