Perfect Cioppino

published Oct 14, 2022
Cioppino (Seafood Stew) Recipe

Cioppino is a big seafood stew of briny abundance, best shared among a crowd of people.

Serves6

Prep20 minutes

Cook40 minutes to 45 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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seafood stew with bread and wine on green tile in bowl
Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Cioppino is a seafood stew of briny abundance. A wide assortment of seafood served in a large bowl with steaming broth, it’s a dish best shared with someone who also loves seafood. I prefer attacking it with both a fork and a spoon to make sure I can drink the fragrant broth as I eat my way to the bottom of the bowl, throwing empty clam and mussel shells aside as I empty them.

While cioppino may sound fancy, it’s a stew that comes together fairly quickly — faster, in fact, than many meat-based stews. The broth just needs a quick simmer before you toss in the seafood to quickly do the final round of cooking. It’s completely doable for a dinner party (you can make it ahead up to the point where the seafood goes in) or for a cozy night in.

Where Does Cioppino Originate?

Cioppino is a dish that was created in the late 1800s or early 1900s by Italian immigrant fishermen in San Francisco. These fishermen would contribute leftovers from the day’s Pacific Ocean catch and turn it into a hearty stew. The makeup of the seafood would vary depending on what was available. Today, it’s one of San Francisco’s most beloved dishes. You’ll find it everywhere in the city, from the touristy areas of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 and beyond.

What’s the Difference Between Cioppino and Bouillabaisse?

Bouillabaisse is a French seafood stew originating from fishermen in Marseille, made of a combination of local Mediterranean fish and other seafood. Both stews call for tomatoes, but you’ll find less in the saffron broth of bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse also includes leeks and potatoes. Italian American-based cioppino contains seafood local to the San Francisco Bay Area cooked in a white wine and tomato broth. Cioppino is often served with sourdough bread; bouillabaisse is served with bread spread with rouille, a garlicky mayonnaise.

Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

How to Make Cioppino

  • Sauté the aromatics. Cook fennel, onion or shallot, and garlic until tender and aromatic. Cook with a little tomato paste to add a deeper flavor to the broth.
  • Deglaze with white wine. Add white wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine is almost all evaporated.
  • Simmer the broth. Add fish or seafood stock (check your local fishmonger to see if they make their own) and a can of diced tomatoes. Let simmer to reduce slightly and let the flavors meld.
  • Cook the clams and mussels. Add the clams and mussels in first, and cook until they start to open.
  • Cook the shrimp and fish. Add the shrimp and fish and cook gently in the broth until almost cooked through. Turn off the heat and let them finish cooking in the residual heat to prevent overcooking.
  • Serve with crusty bread. Top with parsley and serve with crusty bread for dipping in the rich broth.

If You’re Making Cioppino, a Couple of Tips

  • Cioppino tastes best with the freshest seafood. Use the seafood listed here as a guideline, but buy what looks (or smells) best at the market. Feel free to swap in crab, squid, or scallops; just change up the cooking time as needed so they don’t overcook.
  • Leftover cioppino makes a great pasta sauce. Especially if you finish cooking the pasta directly in the cioppino for a minute or two so it has a chance to soak up the flavor.

Cioppino (Seafood Stew) Recipe

Cioppino is a big seafood stew of briny abundance, best shared among a crowd of people.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes to 45 minutes

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2

    large shallots or 1/2 medium yellow onion

  • 1

    medium fennel bulb, preferably with fronds

  • 6 cloves

    garlic

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil, plus more for serving

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

  • 2 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 1 cup

    dry white wine

  • 4 cups

    fish or seafood stock

  • 1 (28-ounce) can

    diced tomatoes

  • 1/4 medium bunch

    fresh parsley

  • 1 pound

    littleneck, manila clams, or cockles

  • 1 pound

    mussels

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    firm white fish filets, such as cod, halibut, or red snapper, preferably skinless

  • 1 pound

    extra-large or jumbo raw shrimp (21 to 30 per pound)

  • Toasted or grilled sliced sourdough bread, for serving

Instructions

  1. Finely chop 2 large shallots or 1/2 medium yellow onion (about 1 cup). Pick the fronds from 1 medium fennel bulb and reserve for garnish. Trim and finely chop the bulb (about 1 1/2 cups). Thinly slice 6 garlic cloves.

  2. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the fennel and cook until starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the shallots or onion and 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and cook until the vegetables are tender and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes more.

  3. Add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and stir until the vegetables are coated and the paste darkens in color, about 2 minutes.

  4. Add 1 cup dry white wine and simmer until the wine is reduced by about half, about 2 minutes. Add 4 cups fish or seafood stock, 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Stir to combine, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.

  5. Meanwhile, pick the leaves from 1/4 medium bunch fresh parsley and coarsely chop until you have about 1/4 cup. Rinse and scrub 1 pound clams and 1 pound mussels. Cut 1 1/2 pounds white fish into 1 to 2-inch pieces. Peel and devein 1 pound extra-large or jumbo shrimp if needed.

  6. Add the mussels and clams to the pot and stir to combine. Cover and cook until most of the mussels and clams begin to open, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shrimp and fish, gently stir to combine, and bring back to a simmer. Stir again to move the fish and shrimp at the top closer to the bottom, then remove the pot from the heat. Cover and let sit for 2 minutes to let the residual heat gently finish cooking the seafood (the fish and shrimp should be opaque).

  7. Taste and season with kosher salt as needed. Ladle into serving bowls, discarding any clams or mussels that have not opened. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the parsley and fennel fronds. Serve with toasted or grilled sourdough on the side.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cioppino can be made up to the point where you add the seafood up to 2 days ahead. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate. When ready to finish, bring back to a simmer before proceeding with cooking the seafood.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Remove the mussels and clams from the shells and discard the shells before storing. Reheat on the stovetop over medium-low heat.