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Published February 23, 2024. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
This classic cioppino recipe is loaded with fresh seafood cooked in a delicious tomato and vegetable broth and served with sourdough bread. You will love the simplicity of this dish and the big, bold flavors it offers.
Cioppino is a San Franciscan Italian immigrant specialty of fish stew made with tomatoes and fresh seafood. It’s pronounced as “sha-p-no.” This dish was made based on the “catch of the day.” Whatever came in off the boat that day got thrown into it.
While the methodology of using what was around would be correct, I found that the most authentic and classic versions of cioppino mainly used shellfish and squid. This could change from day to day depending on what came off of the boat, but from what I gathered anything past Dungeness crab, shrimp, clams, mussels, and squid would be considered a bonus.
The only part of this that I could not capture was the crab part. Dungeness crab is traditionally used but it is hard to find and seasonal. I do not want to stop you from using fish in your cioppino recipe because it will still be amazing and maybe even better, so feel free to use what is available.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Oil – Olive oil is the best oil to use. However, you can use any neutral-flavored oil you prefer.
- Onion – You can use a red, white, sweet, or yellow onion. In addition, you’ll need some whole garlic cloves as well.
- Celery – This is added to help add more vegetables and flavor to the broth.
- Peppers – I used a combination of red and green bell peppers. You can use one or the other, or both as I did.
- Stock – Fish stock is classically what is used. This may be difficult to locate, so you can substitute with water, chicken stock, or a combination of these two with clam juice.
- Tomatoes – I used canned San Marzano tomatoes for this. You can use any canned tomatoes in this cioppino. I. addition, you can also use fresh tomatoes.
- Seafood – Since this is the “Catch of the Day” you can use whatever is available. I used fresh clams, mussels, shrimp, crab, and squid. You can also add in fresh fish as well. Lastly, if you are using frozen seafood, be sure it’s completely thawed before using it.
How to Make Cioppino
- Simply roast the onions, garlic, celery, and bell peppers in some olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until browned.
- Next, add in the stock and tomatoes and simmer over low heat. Season well with sea salt and pepper. The stew must be well seasoned because this will season up the seafood.
- While the cioppino stew is simmering you can boil or steam all of the seafood and then pour into the stew and mix it. If you have a huge pot, then you can absolutely make the stew and slowly braise all of the seafood in it until it’s cooked.
- To finish it off, garnish it up with some fresh chopped parsley, some optional red pepper flakes, sea salt, and pepper. Cioppino is super thick because of the shellfish so don’t feel like you have to add it all to the stew.
What Is the Difference Between Cioppino and Bouillabaisse?
Cioppino – A rich Italian seafood stew using the catch-of-the-day with a tomato broth as the base for this stew.
Bouillabaisse – While also a rich shellfish and fish stew, bouillabaisse is traditionally French using a white fish broth as the base with some chopped tomatoes placed in it along with the addition of saffron.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: This cioppino is meant to be eaten right away.
How to Store: This will hold well in the refrigerator covered up for up to 3 days. It is advised that if you want to make this ahead of time, cook and cool the broth and then reheat and add in fresh seafood. It will also freeze well covered for up to 2 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator for 1 day before reheating.
How to Reheat: Add your desired portion to a small saucepot and heat over low heat until hot.
chef notes + tips
- Traditionally, cioppino is served hot as a stew, but I suppose you could eat it cold, although I would not recommend that as the flavors and textures of the seafood will be dramatically changed.
- Since cioppino originated in San Francisco, there is no better food to serve it than a few loaves of sourdough bread.
- I tried to keep this recipe as close to the original as possible, which calls for cooking the seafood separately from the fish stew. You can absolutely cook the seafood right in the stew, as long as you have a pot big enough. It will add more delicious seafood flavors to the overall dish.
More Seafood Recipes
For the Stew:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 peeled and small diced yellow onion
- 4 finely minced cloves of garlic
- 3 small diced stalks of celery
- 1 seeded and small diced green bell pepper
- 1 seeded and small diced red bell pepper
- 2 cups fish stock
- 2 28- ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed with hands
- coarse salt and pepper to taste
- chopped fresh parsley and crushed red pepper flakes for garnish
For the Seafood:
- 1 pound manilla clams
- 1 pound mussels
- 8 ounces large U-15 peeled, deveined tail-on shrimp
- 1 pound crab legs, broken down
- 8 ounces squid, tubes sliced
- In a large pot over medium heat, add the olive oil.
- Next, add in the onions, garlic, celery, and peppers and saute for 4 to 6 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Pour in the stock and tomatoes and stew over low heat for 20 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, batch-cook the seafood from whatever takes the longest amount of time to cook to the shortest.
- Add in the clams and cook for 3 to 4 minutes and then add in the mussels and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. All of the shells should be open.
- Transfer the shellfish to the cioppino stew and mix in.
- Next, add the shrimp and the crab legs and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and then add in the squid and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes or until done.
- Also, add this to the stew and stir.
- Serve the cioppino with chopped parsley, optional crushed red pepper flakes, and sliced sourdough bread.