Every Christmas Eve for at least the last 15 years, I’ve served home made Cioppino (pronounced “chuh-pee-know”) at our family dinner. I look so forward not just to the meal, but to the process of making it, too. It has come to signal that Christmas is finally here…just one more sleep!
Cioppino has roots in the west coast AND to Italian heritage. In the late 1800s, Italian American fishermen in San Francisco would each add fish from their catch of the day to a stew made with fresh tomatoes and wine. It grew as a staple of the local fisherman community, and eventually made its way onto the menus of local restaurants.
Growing up on the east coast, I had honestly never even heard of Cioppino. After having moved here to the Pacific Northwest and having had it several times at restaurants, I took my first attempt at creating a personal recipe during a family vacation with close friends down on the Oregon coast. I made it in a big pot, over an open fire we built on the beach. The setting was amazing, and for a first crack at the recipe, the Cioppino was pretty good too!
The recipe evolved over the years, to where it now weaves together with another Christmas Eve tradition – the Italian Feast of the 7 Fishes. As a true blooded Italian (mother from Naples, father’s parents from Sicily) this made a lot of sense to me, so now there are always 7 types of seafood in my Christmas Eve Cioppino – no more, no less. Here is my recipe (at least as it stands today!), currently featuring salmon, halibut, sablefish, shrimp, scallops, mussels and King crab. I hope you enjoy making and eating it as much as we do at our home.
President, SeaBear Smokehouse
Wild salmon fillet 6 oz
Wild halibut fillet 6 oz
Sablefish fillet 6 oz
1/2 lb raw shrimp (shell on)
4 oz. scallops
1/2 lb mussels
4 pieces of Alaskan King Crab leg (merus section, or broken leg pieces)
Bunch of fresh Italian parsely
4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
3 cups water
1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 TBS tomato paste
Ground black pepper
Please Note: These are the 7 types of seafood I recommend, but in the spirit of the history of Cioppino, you should toss into your version of this seafood stew whichever are your favorites. Just make sure to have at least 3 shellfish, as steaming them is an important step in creating the broth.
Also Note: This will easily serve 4, more if you are just serving as a side dish. As you adjust up for a larger # of servings, feel free to add wherever you feel... more of the broth, for sure, but adjust the seafood according to your favorites.
HOW TO PREPARE
We start by creating the broth: add the water, chopped garlic, chopped parsley, wine, sea salt, cracked black pepper and juice from the lemon to a pot. Place the shrimp, mussels, scallops and crab in a steaming basket in the pot, and then simmer over medium heat for at least 10 minutes to thoroughly steam the seafood, and create a milky-colored broth. Taste, and season as desired.
Set the King crab pieces aside.
Add the diced tomatoes, the steamed shrimp, mussels and scallops, along with the salmon, sablefish, and halibut to the broth. Cover, and simmer over a low heat for at least 30 minutes (I like to simmer it for a while, turn it off and let it rest, and them simmer again, repeating this a few times throughout the day!). I love it best when it is cooked to the point that pieces of fish start to fall apart --- it makes the broth even better!
While simmering, taste the broth, and continue to tweak it to your tastes (you know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that!). When it comes time to serve, ladle into bowls, and top each bowl with a piece of King crab.
How to Serve Your Cioppino
Serve in bowls, with spoons so your guests can dive into the Cioppino and enjoy spoonfuls of the sauce with each loaded bite of seafood.
Your favorite artisan bread -- with a side of salted butter -- is an absolute must, for dunking into the sauce!
The finishing touch, right before everyone dives in, is to grate some authentic Parmigianno Reggiano on top. Get the real deal from a local Italian deli or specialty food store. I actually splurge on this, and get mine from the Emilia region of Italy, from a company called Emilia Food Love (HERE) --- they are amazing, and occasionally have limited offerings of heavily aged Parmigiano Reggiano (I most recently got a 10 year aged!)
Serving wine? In honor of the Italian heritage behind Cioppino, I love to serve it with a nice Chianti.
Final thought -- this is such a perfect meal to enjoy with family with your table lit by candlelight.
However you make and serve your cioppino, savor both the amazing flavor and the rich history behind this special meal. And, make it your own -- enjoy!