Loads of fresh seafood in a rich and flavorful tomato wine broth, Cioppino, or Fisherman’s Stew, is delicious and surprisingly simple to make!
Need a quick to make recipe for a special occasion? Cioppino or “Fisherman’s Stew” is it! This simple, delicious seafood stew is one of my favorite dishes to make when I want to cook something special. It’s actually a favorite Christmas Eve tradition in my family. But really, it’s perfect for date night in or any night of the week.
What is Cioppino?
Cioppino or fisherman’s stew originated in San Francisco in the 1800’s. Italian immigrant fisherman would share their daily catch with the the other fisherman who weren’t so lucky that day so everyone could feed their family at the end of a hard day’s work. Can’t let anyone go home empty-handed! It’s a rustic, mixed pot of fresh ingredients that can be easily adapted using what’s available. In fact, every time I make cioppino, it ends up being a bit different based on what seafood is available and fresh that day. Choose your own adventure!
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What’s in this Cioppino recipe?
Seafood is the star. You can include whatever you like, or whatever looks fresh and delicious at the market that day. I always go in with a plan and often it changes on the spot. That’s why it’s so fun to make! My favorite combination is:
- Meaty white fish like halibut or cod
- Sometimes I add crab or lobster depending on my mood
I usually go without about one pound of each kind for a total of 4-5lbs of seafood for this recipe. In addition to mixed seafood, you’ll need some ingredients to make the broth. The tomato wine broth is rich, flavorful and absolutely delicious.
Onion, leek, fennel, shallot, garlic – talk about FLAVOR!
Crushed tomatoes and tomato paste – I always have crushed tomatoes and tomato paste in my pantry for so many recipes. These are items you always want to have on hand. I order most of my pantry staples from my favorite online grocery store, Thrive Market. You can get so many high quality products at a good discount delivered straight to your door!
Clam juice – sounds kind of weird but trust me, you don’t want to skip this ingredient. It helps build a deep seafood flavor in the broth. You can usually find it near the canned fish in the supermarket or they do have it at Thrive Market!
White wine – there’s quite a bit of wine in this broth, which makes it wildly delicious. Use a good, dry white wine that you would drink! I use Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc frequently when I cook. It’s good and very affordable. You use half the bottle in the recipe and have two glasses left to enjoy while you cook!
Seafood stock – if you’re buying your seafood at a market, ask the fishmonger if they have any stock. Sometimes they have it available in the freezer. I order this SeaBags brand from Amazon all the time. You can also find it in many grocery stores along with the chicken, beef and veggie stock.
Bay leaf, salt, crushed red pepper – so much flavor going on in this stew, just need a few basics to make it sing.
Olive oil – use the good stuff. The flavors in this recipe are simple and you will taste them all. It’s always The Furies Olive Oil for me!
Fresh parsley and/or basil, lemon wedges, crusty bread – for garnish and crusty bread is a non-negotiable for sopping up all of the broth and bits of fish swimming in the bottom. Drool.
How to prep the seafood
Shrimp – peel and de-vein. I leave the tails on because I like how it looks, but you do you!
Mussels – most of the mussels that you find in the grocery store will be farm raised. It’s unlikely that they will have a lot of sand and grit, but you definitely still want to clean them. Place them in a colander and run some cold water over them. If you find any that have open shells, lightly tap them and if it closes up, it’s alive. If it doesn’t, sadly that one didn’t make it and you should discard it before cooking. Mussels might also have beards – these hair like fibers coming out of the shell. Just grab and tug towards the hinge of the shell and they should come right off.
Clams – same as the mussels, if any of them are open, give them a tap. If they close, they’re alive, if they don’t, say goodbye! Soak the clams in cold water with a bit of salt for 20 minutes or so. They will naturally spit out any dirt or grit inside.
Scallops – you can use small or large ones. Whatever is the freshest. Check over the scallops to see if they still have the side muscle attached. It’s a little rectangular bit on the side of the scallop that’s usually tough. Just tear it away. If you can’t find it on the scallop, don’t worry, it probably already fell off on it’s way to the market. Even if a few make it into your dish, not a big deal.
Fish – Cut the fish into 2 inch chunks with a sharp knife. You can remove the skin if you like. I usually leave it on, it adds flavor and it just kind of falls off when it cooks. It also helps the fish stay together and not fall apart when it goes into the broth.
How to make the best Cioppino
Seafood can seem really intimidating but it’s really quite simple. It’s easy to tell when it’s done just by looking at it! The key to perfect Cioppino is the timing and adding the different seafoods in the right order so they all cook perfectly.
First, you’ll heat up some olive oil in a heavy bottom dutch oven and saute the onion, fennel and leeks. When the vegetables are a bit soft, then add your garlic. When you add garlic too early in the process it can burn and become bitter. We don’t want that.
When the garlic becomes fragrant, add your salt, bay leaf and red pepper flakes. Then add the tomato paste. Let that cook for a bit. Cooking tomato paste a bit before you add liquid deepens the flavor. Add in stock, clam juice, white wine and crushed tomatoes and simmer for about 30 minutes. Your house will smell AMAZING. Check for seasoning and add any additional salt and pepper to taste. You can make the broth ahead of time and then gently reheat to a simmer when you’re ready to cook the seafood. I do this all the time!
Once your stock has simmered, it’s time to add the seafood. Start with the mussels and clams. Drop them into the broth and let them cook for about 5 minutes. When they start to open, add in the fish and scallops. Cook for another minute or two and then add the shrimp last. The shrimp cook fast so once they are pink, everything should be done at the same time.
Toss in a healthy amount of fresh herbs and serve in big bowls with broth. Make sure every serving gets a bit of everything. MOST IMPORTANTLY – get twice as much crusty bread as you think you need.
Cioppino (Fisherman's Stew)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 4 shallots finely chopped
- 1 large leek thinly sliced
- 1 bulb fennel thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1 8 oz bottle of clam juice
- 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 6 cups seafood stock
- 1 lb shrimp peeled and de-veined
- 1 lb scallops
- 1 lb firm white fish like halibut or cod
- 1 lb clams
- 1 ½ lbs mussels
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- lemon wedges for garnish
- In a large, heavy bottom dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, leek, fennel, shallots and salt and saute until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add garlic, red pepper flakes and cook for another minute until fragrant. Stir in tomato paste and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add wine and boil for about 5 minutes until reduced. Add in clam juice, stock and crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Turn heat down to medium-low, cover and let broth simmer for 30 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld.
- Add the clams and mussels to the simmering broth, cover and cook for about 5 minutes until they start to open. Uncover and add in fish and scallops and cook for 1-2 minutes until they start to turn opaque. Add in shrimp and cook for another 2-3 minutes until they turn pink.
- Use a slotted spoon to discard any clams or mussels that did not open. Sprinkle in fresh parsley and serve in big bowls with lemon wedges and lots of crusty bread.