Saturday was our 33rd anniversary. We are having the celebration on Sunday, so the kids can join us. We agreed on having cioppino.
Cioppino is a relaxed Californian Italian-American soup. The ingredient list is much more “What is fresh today?” with fresh tomatoes and a wine-based soup. The common seafood for this soup is a combination of Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels and various fish.
Traditionally, this soup was made by everyone tossing some of the day’s catch into a pot of wine, onions and herbs. While this makes a perfectly decent fish stew, I wanted to make it better. Small differences in how you treat some ingredients pays off in big flavor.
The last time I made this soup I made my own sweet pepper soup base. I also reduced the vegetables to make it more about the fish. This time, I am reversing that trend, because Jan pushes me to always add more vegetables and this soup is for her.
This is a wine based soup. In addition to the clam juice, I bought head-on shrimp and I plan to simmer them, any fish scraps, and steam the shell fish in the soup base to make a homemade soup broth. Combined with the pureed red peppers it will be a hearty soup.
To have both a rich broth and still have recognizable chunks of vegetables, I am cutting most of the vegetables into two sizes. Most of each vegetable will be cut into large chunks to be cooked and then pureed. About a quarter of each vegetable will be diced small, lightly sautéed, and then added towards the end of the cooking time.
Prepping, before you start cooking, is very important with this dish. Seafood cooks very quickly and does not tolerate over cooking. In trying to treat each ingredients to obtain its best possible flavor, I—perhaps—over complexified this recipe. I used almost all of my standard ingredients bowls to hold the prepared seafood and vegetables.
Usually when I make this soup I use littleneck clams and small (8”) squid. I was in the Asian market and I saw Manila clams and large (18”) calamari. Manila clams are about the same size as little necks on the outside, but they have much more meat inside—at least the ones sold around here.
Tip: The difference between calamari and squid is that some people, who would eat calamari, would be revolted by the idea of eating squid. They are actually exactly the same thing.
The starch for this meal comes from crusty bread on the side. This is useful for sopping up the broth. It also allows those diners who are avoiding starches to control their bread intake.
After Dinner Note: Overall this was an excellent soup. The broth was thick and rich. Several people when back for seconds of just the broth.
There were however some hick-ups. While the clams were a good choice, the squid not so much. While Jan and I like squid, the kids don’t—particularly the tentacled bits. The body meat on the large calamari is thicker and chewier than the smaller squid and the young ones rejected it.
As I was watching an American’s Test Kitchen, I learned of a way to make shrimp shells crisp and edible. I decided to try this technique in my cioppino. I thought they added a good flavor and an interesting texture to the dish. No one else agreed—they all refused to even try them and complained about having to peel the shrimp. Oh well, not every experiment works and even my adventurous family has its culinary limits.
Karl’s Anniversary Cioppino
2 large red sweet peppers (about a pound) , separate uses
3 beef steak tomatoes
1 small fennel bulb
1 cup clam juice
2 cups dry white wine, separate uses
1 bay leaf
2+ Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, separate uses
½ tsp. Kosher salt
2 stalks celery, one coarsely chopped, one finely diced, separate uses
1 leeks, ½ coarsely chopped, ½ finely sliced, separate uses
6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly, separate uses
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. fresh lemon thyme
2 tsp. fresh oregano
2 tsp. anchovy paste
½ tsp. black pepper
¼+ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ cup flat leafed parsley, coarsely chopped, separate uses
1. Cut the peppers in half, seed and de-vein them.
Tip: Many cooks roast their peppers whole and then struggle to de-seed the slippery, hot chilies. Removing the seeds before broiling is much simpler. Cutting the peppers in half also makes it quicker to roast them, because you do not need to keep turning them.
2. Slice the tomatoes in half and cut out the tough part by the stem.
Tip: Cut the tomatoes at the equator and scrape the seeds into a sieve set over a bowl. Press the jelly through the sieve and discard the seeds. Reserve the jelly.
3. Finely dice and reserve 1 half of one of the tomatoes.
Note: This half of a tomato will be added near the end of cooking to get that fresh tomato flavor.
4. Quarter the fennel bulb.
Tip: Leave the core attached at this time.
5. Arrange the vegetables on a Pam-ed lipped baking tray.
Tip: Set the peppers and skin side up. Set the tomatoes and fennel cut side up. Brush the tomatoes and fennel lightly with olive oil.
6. Broil the vegetables for 20-30 minutes, until well charred.
7. Remove and cool the vegetables slightly.
Tip: Remove the peppers to a plastic bag and seal it. This will steam the peppers and make it easier to remove the tough skins.
8. When cool enough to handle, skin the peppers and tomatoes and coarsely chop the peppers, tomatoes and fennel and save the vegetables for later.
Tip: They may all go into a single bowl.
9. Coarsely chop ¾ of the onion and finely dice the other quarter.
Tip: Reserve the finely diced ¼ of the onion to add to the soup later.
Note: With the exception of the fresh tomato, you may put all of the finely diced vegetables in the same bowl. You will be lightly sautéing them and then saving them to add near the end of the cooking time.
10. Remove the heads from the shrimp and put the the heads in a medium sized pot.
Note: You will be making a fish stock in this pot.
11. De-vein the shrimp and snip off the legs.
Tip: Discard the veins and put the legs in the medium pot.
12. Pat the shrimp dry and place them on a small broiling pan to dry.
Tip: It is important the at shrimp be dry before going under the broiler. You want them to come out grilled, not steamed.
13. Prepare the rest of the seafood by cutting it into bite sized pieces.
Tip: Put any skin, bones and shells in to the medium pot.
Note: Keep like cooking seafood in separate bowls—slow cooking fish in one, more quickly cooking scallops and calamari in another, etc.—and refrigerate until needed. If you are using crab, remove the lump meat from the body. Crack and keep any good looking legs and claws to garnish the soup. If you are not familiar with cleaning squid here is a video on how to do it.
14. Add the clam juice, one cup of wine, and the bay leaf to the medium pot.
Tip: It takes time for a bay leaf to impart its flavor to a soup. The secret is to put it in early and transfer it to each stage of the soup making process.
Note: Do not add the shell fish to the pot at this time.
15.Bring the pot to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
16. Strain the broth through a sieve and let the solids cool.
17. Squeeze any liquid out of the shrimp heads and pour out any trapped in the shells.
Tip: If you find any good lumps of meat add them to the pot. When you are finished with the shrimp and shells there may be a lump of fish meat and shrimp legs in the bottom of the sieve, squeeze any liquid you can out of this and then discard it—or feed it to the cat.
18. Return the broth to the pot and bring it to a boil.
19. Add the shell fish to the pot, cover, and reduce the heat.
20. While the shell fish are steaming, add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large soup pot and sauté the finely diced vegetables for 4-5 minutes, until just soft.
Tip: I make the initial broth in a medium pot. For the second cooking, I use a wide and very heavy Dutch oven, which retains heat well and makes for a more attractive display at the table.
21. Remove the vegetables and reserve for later.
22. Remove the shell fish from the smaller pot and set them aside to cool.
Tip: When the shells have cooled remove and discard the half shell that has no meat attached. This step is not absolutely necessary, but it makes more room in the pot for the rest of the seafood. Save a few whole clams and mussels to garnish the soup at the end.
Note: If the meat has separated completely from the shell, discard the entire shell. Discard any clams or mussels that have failed to open.
23. Reserve the seafood broth for later.
24. Add some more olive oil to the pot and sauté the coarsely chopped onions until they are just starting to pick up some color, about 5 minutes.
25. Add the coarsely chopped celery to the onions, and continue sautéing for 3-5 more minutes.
26. Add the coarsely chopped leek and sauté for another three minutes.
27. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add ¾ of the garlic and cook for one minute more, until fragrant.
Tip: Reserve ¼ of the garlic to add later.
28. Stir the garlic into the vegetables and pull them to the sides of the pan again.
29. Add the tomato paste to the pan and, stirring constantly, cook the paste until it darkens, about another 2-3 minutes.
30. Stir in the reserved fish stock, the coarsely chopped peppers, fennel, tomatoes, lemon thyme, oregano, anchovy paste, black pepper, and cayenne to the pot.
Tip: The clams and mussels may have had some sand in them, which will now be resting at the bottom of your medium pot. When you pour the stock into the large soup pot, try to avoid adding the sand to the soup.
31. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat.
32. Simmer the soup for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.
33. Remove the pot from the heat, add one half cup of white wine, and let the soup cool slightly.
34. When the soup is cool enough to handle, process the soup in a standing blender until smooth.
Warning!!!: Do not forget to remove the bay leaf before putting the soup in the blender. You can put it back in after the vegetables have been blended.
Tip: You may need to blend the soup in batches.
Note: For a more rustic soup use an immersion blender to partially blend the vegetables.
35. Return the soup to the pot and rinse the blender out with a second half cup of white wine.
36. Add the reserved sautéed vegetables and the rest of the garlic to the pot.
37. Simmer the soup for another five minutes.
38. Lay the shrimp on a baking try and brush both sides with olive oil.
39.Broil the shrimp, close to the heating element on high, for 3-4 minutes, until starting to char.
Tip: The high heat causes the shrimp shell to become crispy and edible.
40. Flip the shrimp and continue broiling for another two minutes,
Tip: You are trying for a delicate balance here, you want the shells to be crispy, but you do not want the meat to be overcooked.
41. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and reserve.
42. Stir in the fish that takes the longest to cook into the soup.
43. After two minutes, add the scallops, and calamari.
44. After four more minutes, fold in most of the clams, mussels, shrimp, crab, the reserved chopped tomatoes, and most of the parsley .
Tip: Reserve the best looking seafood bits to garnish the top of the soup for presentation.
Note: You do not want to stir the soup vigorous at this point—that would mash the tender fish pieces into a mush. If the ratio of liquid to seafood seems off, you may add more wine or clam juice at this time.
45. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if necessary.
46. Garnish the soup with the reserved seafood and simmer, covered, for two more minutes to warm the seafood.
47. Garnish with the rest of the parsley and serve from the pot with crusty bread and a salad.