Unlike most seafood stews, which are thrown together just before serving, this version requires the fish to sit in the sauce overnight. Because the raw shrimp and whitefish are bathed in the rich tomato sauce, the resulting dish is wildly flavorful and the seafood is succulent and plump. It's wonderful for holiday entertaining because the night of a dinner party, the only thing you have to do is toss it in the oven. Seriously, this cioppino is a must make, so learn the technique.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large head fennel, diced (about 1 cup)
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and sliced into half-moons
1 green pepper, diced small
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups bottled clam juice
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 pounds local thick-fleshed fresh fish (we used a mixture of red snapper and black cod), cut into 2-inch chunks
2 Dungeness crabs, about 3 pounds total, cracked and cleaned (see Note)
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Home-baked croutons, crostini or fresh crusty bread, for serving
- In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onions, fennel, leeks and green peppers, and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaves, oregano, red pepper flakes and thyme, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and saute until the mixture becomes fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. When the tomato paste starts sticking to the pot, pour in the white wine, scraping to incorporate the stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced by half.
- Add the clam juice, broth, crushed and chopped tomatoes, and stir well. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- Remove from heat and cool completely. You can either do this two nights before you plan to serve the cioppino and refrigerate overnight, or cool quickly by placing the pot in an ice water bath in the sink and stir until it's at least room temperature.
- The night before you plan to serve the cioppino, divide the seafood, except for the crab, between two 9- by 13-inch baking dishes (they should be suitable for serving). Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and divide the cooled base between the two dishes, fully submerging the seafood in the liquid. Wrap well and refrigerate overnight.
- To serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the baking dishes with aluminum foil, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until fish is cooked through and broth is hot.
- Remove the foil, add the crab, and cook for 10 minutes more. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with home baked croutons, crostini or fresh crusty bread.
Note: Using whole crab means you'll get your hands dirty when eating this, but that's half the fun. If you'd prefer a cleaner presentation, you can substitute about 3/4 pound of fresh crab meat, but this can get expensive.
- Main Dishes, Fish