Cioppino with a Twist

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.

Serves 6

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.

24 thoughts on “Cioppino with a Twist

  1. I just love recipes with a history — and I love this fish stew. Looks easy enough for me to try, and the ingredients even this inlander can get (albeit frozen.)

  2. I make a cioppino every Christmas Eve now but have never used ouzo – I love that addition. I use fennel in mine too, so I’m going to have to hunt down some ouzo for this year’s batch!

  3. Oh my gosh!!! Love the addition of Ouzo – it’s like fennel in a liqueur. I prefer the French Pernod myself, find it much smoother, but in the soup it would not matter! Delicious!

  4. While reading the title of your recipe, I was already debating (in my head, silently…) the origin of the recipe,is this Italian? Spanish? Thanks for putting an end to my silent debate. My husband loves seafoods and will surely beg me to create something like this…

  5. Lynda, this is an absolutely lovely cioppino! I think if I made this my Italian husband would be so happy. It’s one of his favorites, especially with a big loaf of crusty bread for dipping in a tomato sauce like yours! Thanks for sharing your surprisingly simple recipe. I’ll have to pocket this to try sometime soon!

  6. I’ve never made a cioppino, probably because finding crab claws around here isn’t the easiest thing to do. Going Greek with this may prompt me to step up my efforts in finding some now. – S

  7. Hello Helene I love this version of Greek seafood soup! Back in Greece, fishermen used to cook the ( Buyabessa or Kakavia) on the boat with fish and oysters that they could not sale (hitten or broken seafood) . The classic recipe has no tomato but your version is so great!

  8. Cant tell you how happy this recipe has made me especially when I m on a lookout for delicious seafood & vegetarian soups& stews for the cold season..beautiful colors!

  9. This looks heavenly! I would no doubt order this if I saw it on a menu. I’m going to consider giving this one a try. The photo intimidates me a bit, but the recipe seems straight-forward enough, and it does sound like a soup that I would really enjoy. Hmmm…now you have me thinking. 😉

  10. This looks so incredibly appetizing, I can almost smell it. This would be a feast fit for our very favorite friends.

  11. I am trying to eat more fish but I don’t really like it. I will eat halibut though. Any yummy recipes? Also, are there any other fish that aren’t that fishy tasting that I should try? Thanks! 🙂

  12. I’ve been making Cioppino for years and have recently tried a similar variation dining out made with Ouzo. I had to send the dish back as the Ouzo overpowered the subtle flavors within the dish. Every bite tasted like licorice which I found objectionable. Unless you really like the taste of licorice I would hesitate making Cioppino using this type of liqueur. Stick with red or white wine.

  13. Delicious .. We made twice in 1 week. Second time I cut the recipe in 1/2 as there is only 2 of us, so the first time we had so much left over………. Very good, thanks

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