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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

Cioppino, a San Francisco Culinary Invention

When I was planning my Mothers' Day, I opted to run up to Santa Cruz for a hike in the redwoods with R followed by lunch. Then home to make dinner for Nonna. She requested cioppino. Done!

Let's start with this: Contrary to popular belief, cioppino is not an Italian dish. Cioppino was an American invention of the Italian fishermen of North Beach in San Francisco. I've read a lot of different accounts. I'm going to share the one that makes the most sense to me.

Cioppino is a tomato-based seafood stew that was invented during the late 19th century for fisherman to use whatever seafood was leftover from the day’s catch. Often it was crab, shrimp, clams, and fish; historically, it was made on the fishing boats while out at sea as well as in homes. But as Italian restaurants started sprouting up around the wharf, cioppino became a popular dish.

Since Nonna requested cioppino, we stopped by the H&H Fish Market in Santa Cruz' East Harbor after lunch to pick up whatever was fresh. I selected: ahi tuna, scallops, prawns, squid, clams, and crab.


Serves 3 to 4

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 California bay leaf

  • 3 cups broth or stock (I use organic fish stock)

  • 1/2 cup clam juice

  • one 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

  • 1/2 cup red wine

  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

  • 1/2 pound wild caught large shrimp, peeled and deveined

  • 1/2 pound scallops

  • 1/2 pound wild caught ahi, deboned and cubed

  • 1/2 pound squid, cleaned (I like a mixture of tubed - sliced - and tentacles)

  • 1/2 pound clams or mussels (for this pot, I used clams)

  • 1 Dungeness crab, cleaned and cracked

  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 Tablespoon Sambuca or other licorice flavored alcohol

  • Also needed: bread, for serving


Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot. Add in the garlic, onions, and bay leaves. Cook till aromatic, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the stock, clam juice, crushed tomatoes, red wine, and hot sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

While stew is simmering, prep your seafood. Add the seafood to the pot, timing so that the ones that will take the longest to cook will be done around the same time as the ones that need to barely be blanched. Add in the clams and cook until they open. Discard the ones that don't open. Discard bay leaves, then gently stir in parsley, oregano, and Sambuca. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve cioppino immediately in large soup bowls with hunks of bread.

A note: If you want to save some time on the day you're serving this, you can make the broth the day before. Let cool completely, then refrigerate. Bring the broth to a simmer before adding the seafood.

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