Going to the grocery store these days it’s easy to suffer sticker shock especially with fish and seafood. Halibut, codfish, scallops all come in at a price per kilo that exceeds that of AAA beef tenderloin, so cheaper cuts of meat such as liver, braised short ribs, or the old standby chicken land on the plate. However I love seafood and sometimes have smoked salmon for breakfast if it’s on sale. On one recent shopping trip a bag of frozen mixed seafood caught my eye; a product of Thailand, it contained squid, cooked shrimp, cuttlefish, octopus, cooked mussels, and cooked clams. While not perfect because of the precooked seafood, it looked like it would make a base for a quick and easy cioppino.
Cioppino is somewhere between a soup and a stew: a fish stew. Said to originate in San Francisco (which I swear lays claim to anything good!), the word cioppino has a history as colourful as the sauce; it’s said to be broken english for ‘chip in’ to the communal pot cooking up the day’s fish scraps on the pier. Whatever it’s called now it was long a staple dish in Portugal where you’d look for Caldeirada de peixe on the menu. San Francisco was settled by Italian and Portuguese immigrants among others, so it’s not surprising being a port that the fishermen would bring Old World recipes with them, and maybe give it a New World name.
As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a chef and a Gordon Ramsay type would likely be appalled at what I’ve thrown together, but this is for a seafood lover who’s landlocked or on a budget and still wants to enjoy an exciting and tasty fish stew even if it’s from frozen seafood.
It’s pretty much a tomato basil sauce with fish stock (or chicken stock) and wine that’s simmered for 30 minutes. Brought to a boil, the frozen seafood is added and when it comes to a boil again, cover & reduce heat cooking for 5-6 minutes (the package says 10 minutes but that’s crazy CYA talk). Ladle out into bowls, garnish with basil and enjoy!
- 1/2 medium onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped fennel
- 2 tbsp bacon fat (or olive oil)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 796 ml (28 oz) can San Marzano (or similar quality) tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dry)
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dry)
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 tbsp dry)
- 2 tbsp chopped flat or Italian parsley (or 1 tbsp dry)
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp Thai red curry paste (optional)
- salt & pepper
- 1 cup fish stock (or chicken stock)
- 1/2 cup wine (red or white--your preference)
- 300 g frozen mixed fish & seafood (squid, shrimp, cuttlefish, octopus, clams, mussels)
- Chop the onion & garlic, celery, and fennel (I didn't have fennel and used ground fennel seed)
- Set a large cookpot at medium low heat and when hot add bacon fat or oil. After it warms up add onion, garlic, celery and fennel; stir and cook until onion is soft. Don't rush this part: there's nothing worse than burnt garlic.
- When onion is soft, add canned tomatoes and tomato paste along with bay leaves, red pepper flakes, pepper, and red curry paste (this makes for a spicy soup; if you don't like heat don't include it). If you're using dried herbs, add them now.
- Cook tomato sauce for 15 minutes then add fish stock and wine; cook for about 10 minutes more.
- Stir in fresh herbs now if using. Raise heat to medium high to bring to boil; boil for 5 minutes.
- Add frozen fish & seafood mix and stir in to make sure all are submerged in hot sauce and bring to boil.
- When boiling, cover and reduce heat to low (if using a gas stove reduce heat to medium low to maintain slow simmer)
- Cook for 5-6 minutes without stirring; lift lid and check that fish is done (should be => the frozen pieces are small)
- Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh herbs (you can't get away with dried ones here, okay?)
- In the past I've made this with fresh fish (cod or perch) and it's delicious so don't hesitate to switch things up depending on what's available for you.
- I've made it at times with white wine and with red wine, and both wines work well.
- When you open an entire can of tomato paste for 1 tbsp(!) of paste, put tbsp globs on wax paper and when frozen, keep in a sandwich ziploc bag for future use.