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Loaded with fresh seafood and cooked in a rich and flavourful tomato broth, Cioppino is a seafood lover’s dream come true. It’s incredibly flavourful, comforting and super easy to make. It’s hearty enough to be enjoyed on its own, or can be served with pasta, rice or some crusty bread for dipping.
What is Cioppino?
Cioppino is a hearty seafood stew that originated in San Francisco, California. It’s believed to have been created by Italian-American fishermen in the late 1800s who would combine the day’s catch with a tomato-based sauce and serve it over pasta. The dish has since evolved to become a signature dish of San Francisco’s Italian-American community, and is typically made with a variety of seafood such as shrimp, crab, clams, mussels, and white fish, in a tomato-based broth that is flavored with garlic, onions, fennel, herbs, and white wine. It’s also very commonly served with crusty bread for dipping.
The medley of seafood used in Cioppino can vary depending on the season, availability, budget and personal preference. Same goes for the aromatics in the tomato broth.
What You Need for this Seafood Stew:
- Seafood: For this recipe I used grouper, wild-caught Key West pink shrimp, little neck clams and mussels. You can substitute your favourite firm white fish (see below for substitution ideas) and add more or less shellfish as desired. I believe the best Cioppino is the one made with the types of seafood you personally enjoy so be sure to use what you like.
- Seafood Stock: Most packaged seafood stocks are bland so I recommend making one from scratch instead. You can keep things very simple by buying shell-on shrimp for the Cioppino and using the shells to make a quick and flavourful stock. Just add the shells to a small pot along with some carrot, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover with water and simmer for around 15 minutes. Pass the stock through a sieve to strain and set it aside until ready to cook. It will add a delicious flavour and aroma to the tomato broth.
- Aromatics: Fresh fennel, onion and garlic for the flavourful base for the tomato broth used to poach the seafood. If you can’t find fresh fennel, you can substitute with one teaspoon of fennel seeds. The flavour will be less sweet and slightly more fragrant but you will still get those delicious and aromatic anise notes.
- Good Quality Crushed Tomatoes: Look for one made with nothing more than San Marzano tomatoes and salt, packed in a BPA-free tin. If you can’t find good quality crushed tomatoes, you can buy whole, peeled tomatoes and crush them with your hands or with a blender.
- White Wine: White wine will add some sweetness and a nice acidity that compliments the seafood and tomato sauce but it won’t ruin the Cioppino if you don’t add it in. If you’re doing a round of Whole30 or want to keep things Paleo, feel free to omit it or substitute with some clam juice instead for more seafood flavour.
- Fresh Basil: I love to add a couple sprigs of fresh basil towards the end of the cooking process. It adds an incredible aroma that goes really well with the rest of the ingredients.
- You can use any type of firm white fish you like, such as grouper, cod, halibut, haddock, snapper or flounder.
- If using frozen seafood, be sure to thaw it and pat it dry before adding it to the pot.
- If you don’t have white wine, you can use clam juice instead.
- If you don’t want to make your own seafood stock, you can substitute vegetable broth instead.
- If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can use dried herbs instead. Just be sure to use about half as much dried herbs as fresh herbs, as they are more concentrated in flavour.
Cioppino – Seafood Stew
For the Shrimp Stock:
- 8 large shrimp shells
- 1 medium carrot, cut in half
- 1 celery stalk, cut in half
- ½ yellow onion, cut in half
- 1 small head garlic, cut in half
- ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
- 1.5 quarts water
For the Cioppino:
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
- ½ large fennel bulb, diced, fronds reserved for garnish
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Kosher salt
- ½ cup white wine, optional
- 12 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes, plus more as desired
- 1 quart shrimp stock
- 1 pound grouper, cubed, substitute any firm white fish such as cod, haddock or halibut
- ½ pound 16/20 shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ½ pound little neck clams
- 1 pound fresh mussels
- 2 sprigs fresh basil
For the Shrimp Stock:
- In a small saucepan, combine the shrimp shells, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add 1.5 quarts filtered water or enough to cover the ingredients in the pot. Set over high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer, lower the heat to medium-low, cover partially with a lid and cook until the liquid has reduced in volume by ¼, 12 to 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as desired.
- Pass the stock through a sieve into a bowl or large jar. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the vegetables and shells. Cover and set aside until ready to use. Can be refrigerated up to 5 days or frozen up to 6 months.
For the Cioppino:
- Before cooking, scrub the mussels clean under cold water and remove any beards poking through the opening of the shells. Discard any mussels that are cracked or open. Add the clams to a bowl of cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and stir to agitate. Let the clams sit for at least 10 minutes so that they purge any sand inside the shells. Discard any clams that are cracked or open.
- Preheat a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the fennel and onion and season with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and translucent, around 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, around 1 minute. Add the white wine, if using, and cook, stirring, until the liquid has reduced in volume by one half. Add the crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring until the liquid has reduced in volume by one quarter, around 6 minutes. Add the reserved shrimp stock and chile flakes and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as desired.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer and layer in the grouper, shrimp, clams and mussels, in that order. Add the basil, cover with a lid, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the fish and shrimp are opaque and the clams and mussels have opened, around 8 minutes. Transfer the cioppino to individual serving bowls and garnish with reserved fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil. Discard any mussels and clams whose shells did not open. Serve on its own, with pasta, rice or crusty bread.