Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cioppino (Fish Stew)

Towards the end of Lent this year I was running out of creative fish ideas for No Meat Fridays. I'm not super-Catholic, but I do still try to practice some traditions. :)  I decided to try my hand at a heaping pot of Cioppino, the San Francisco fish stew. I read around a bunch online and found there really is no standard recipe for this, so I picked and chose what I liked and encourage you to do the same.

I warn you, this recipe uses an entire bulb of fennel. Don't be afraid, it is easy to work with and in no way overpowering in terms of flavor. (I know some of you out there have an aversion to trying new foods, to which I say - stop being a baby and try it!)

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced
  • 3 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine (optional)
  • 5 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound small raw clams, scrubbed (manila or copper)
  • 1 pound raw mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 1/2 pounds fish fillets (I chose halibut), cut into 2-inch chunks 
  • 1 handful torn fresh parsley leaves
  1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots, and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and saute 2 minutes. 
  3. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, chicken stock and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the clams and mussels to the cooking liquid. Cover and cook until the clams and mussels begin to open, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and fish. Simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through, and the clams are completely open, stirring gently, about 5 minutes longer (discard any clams and mussels that do not open). 
  5. Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and red pepper flakes and stir in the fresh parsley.
Preparation Tips:
  1. Your fennel bulb should not be shriveled or discolored. Chop off the top stems and use your knife to skim off the bottom where you'll see a brown spot from growing. Discard these pieces. The bulb itself is formed into onion-like layers and smells like liquorice. You can even try eating a little raw. In Italy, they dip it in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt as a snack.
  2. When working with clams and mussels, you should toss any that are raw but have opened up. Rinse them thoroughly and scrub off any sea growth that may have accumulated on their shells. (You may even be able to have the fish store clean them for you.) After the soup is cooked, throw away any clams or mussels that have not opened up.
  3. Don't bother working with shrimp that hasn't already been cleaned and de-veined. It is a waste of your time to do this yourself. Also, see if you can find shrimp that has already been peeled, or ask at the fish counter if they can peel them for you.
  4. Check your fish fillets for bones and cut off any skin that may still be on there.
  5. This is a no-brainer, but never purchase farm-raised seafood. Yuck yuck yuck. Spend a little extra cash for wild-caught.
mmmm... fennel

I was worried an entire bulb of fennel may have been too much, but it shrunk down and didn't overpower at all.

these are copper clams
the mussel on the left has opened and will be thrown away; the mussel on the right needs to be scrubbed


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