By Mac Millhone
Serves 4 to 6
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is famous for many interesting things. Considered its most original food item is Cioppino. The story goes that the early fishermen, mostly Italian and Portuguese, would make a communal meal with parts of their catch to share at the end of the work day. I love these romantic stories, which may be based on some hint of truth. My guess is that the basic idea of seafood soup or stew predates the Gold Rush by eons, which puts this particular story in question. Anyway the idea is to create a great tasting liquid medium into which various pieces of assorted seafood can be submerged and quickly cooked. This concept works well because one can make the soup or stew base in advance then simply reheat and add seafood.
The soup base must have great big flavor. A technique I like is to slowly cook tomato, chopped red pepper, onion, fennel and garlic in olive oil till it is “jammy.” Tomatoes can be fresh or canned, but if you use fresh consider peeling and seeding them first. Stock is another important part. You can make your own with fish heads and bones, but I’ll bet you won’t. Bottled clam juice or frozen fish stock work well, or you can make an easy version with shrimp and lobster shells. Just cover the crushed shells with an inch or two of water, add a carrot, onion and a piece of celery. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain stock through cheesecloth and there you have it. If you need more liquid, supplement it with dry white wine or clam juice. The seafood must be fresh and well cleaned. Most any seafood will do, but you will customarily find some combination of shrimp, clams, crab and white fish chunks. Please do feel free to add lobster or squid.
As always you need kosher or sea salt, fresh ground pepper and good olive oil.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 fennel bulb sliced thin
1 red pepper chopped
1 medium onion chopped
4 cloves garlic sliced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups fish stock
2 bay leaves
2 lbs. crab legs
25 medium or large clams
1 lb. med or large peeled uncooked shrimp
1 lb. firm white fish in bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 or 2 lemons quartered
In a large heavy-bottomed pot slowly fry the first seven items until soft and jammy, 20 minutes or more. Season gently with salt and pepper, then add tomato paste. Stir in wine, stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary. At this point it should be well-seasoned and quite good. Fresh herbs can go in now if you are using them. Yes, I know they are not in the list above but it is OK to be creative. Thyme and basil are good choices. From this point, dinner will be ready in 15 minutes or so. Plan accordingly. Start adding seafood to the simmering base. First add clams and crab legs. As the clams open, add shrimp and fish. When the shrimp turn pink and the fish opaque it is ready. Do not over cook seafood. Discard any unopened clams as you ladle this masterpiece into large bowls. Scatter chopped parsley over everything and serve with lemon quarters. Add hunks of crusty bread and good red wine for a true seafood treat.
Mac, a retired airline captain, is currently living in Annapolis. He enjoys researching food, cooking and baking. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org