You don’t have to be a chef to make this recipe for the Barefoot Contessa’s authentic cioppino, a tomato-based seafood stew loaded with shrimp, cod, mussels, and clams for a healthy soup and surprisingly easy dinner that goes from fridge to table in just about an hour.
Fun fact. Back in the day I worked as a server (we called ourselves waitresses then) in the best seafood restaurant is Salt Lake City. It was the summer after graduating college and I was saving money for a trip to Europe. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a job, and even better, it’s where I met my husband.
I was a good waitress. Most of the time. But there was that one time I definitely was not, that dinner service I was carrying a tray loaded with three iron serving skillets atop china plates filled with hot-as-hell cioppino to be served to my table that was up the stairs and around that always tough-to-navigate corner.
As I rounded the corner, I felt it happening. The heavy platters saddled with those steamy pots of Italian fisherman’s stew slowly began to slide. I braced myself and tried to rebalance. It didn’t work. The platters of cioppino slid off the china plates. And then off the tray. And then directly into the lap of my hungry customer. It was a waterfall of tomato stew. My customer had been totally cioppinoed.
That poor guy was not one bit happy about it. But then who would be? And yes, his dry cleaning bill came out of my check.
Luckily that whole nightmare of an experience didn’t tarnish my love for cioppino. In fact, it inspired me to learn to make it at home. Safely at home.
Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Cioppino Recipe
Now, all these years later, I’ve found the recipe that matches the deliciousness I discovered with my first bowl of cioppino while visiting San Francisco. And it’s from one of my favorites, the Barefoot Contessa herself.
And seriously, it’s a quick-to-make recipe my friends, so don’t save it just for special occasions. Bookmark it for any night of the week.
This cioppino recipe comes from who I am sure is America’s most loved cookbook author, Ina Garten, and her newest cookbook Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks where she proves that home cooks like me can be pros in their own kitchens thanks to her easy, delicious recipes.
From breakfast to dinner to dessert, there are tons of recipes in this cookbook I marked up with my sticky notes like Farro Tabbouleh with Feta, to Chicken Marbella, to Triple Chocolate Loaf Cake.
But the healthful, chock-full of seafood cioppino is where my cravings landed, and in redemption to that poor man I spilled upon, is the recipe I’m sharing today.
Where Does Cioppino Come From?
Like my dad who was born there (go Niners!), San Francisco is where cioppino was created way back in the 1800s when Italian immigrant fishermen would share the day’s catch with other fishermen who came home empty handed. The stew is a grab bag of ingredients and can easily be adapted to what’s available.
Other cultures have a version of cioppino, including Italy’s neighboring France where their fisherman’s stew is known as bouillabaisse. The differences between cioppino and bouillabaisse are few. Cioppino is Italian in nature with a purely tomato-based broth where bouillabaisse is French, and has the addition of saffron to it’s fish stock-based broth with chopped tomatoes added in.
How to Make Cioppino
The most beloved ingredients in cioppino are obviously the seafood. As to which seafood, that’s totally your choice and can include any combination of:
- meaty white fish such as cod or halibut
- calamari or squid
- shucked oysters
Ina keeps this recipe simple by calling form shrimp, cod, scallops and mussels. I added clams too because we love them so.
TIP: Scrub the shells then soak the mussels in a bowl of water with a few tablespoons of flour for 30 minutes or so the mussels spew any sand that may be lurking in the shells. Nobody likes a mouthful of sand, except live mussels. Rinse them before adding to the stew.
I prefer a cioppino that’s easy to eat so I shell and remove the tails from my shrimp before cooking, and while I LOVE crab, I don’t usually include it because it’s a mess to crack the shells after they’ve been soaked in that lush tomato broth. If you decide to use crab, I suggest you cut the legs in half lengthwise for your guests so the meat is easy to strip straight from the shell.
The Cioppino Broth
The broth for this fisherman’s stew is incredibly easy to make, with canned crushed tomatoes, white wine, and seafood stock. I’ve found just one grocery store brand that makes seafood stock, so you could use clam juice, or make homemade seafood stock.
Freshly chopped fennel and dried fennel seeds pair with the garlic and onion to become your Italian-flavor builders.
Ina calls for Pernod, an anise flavored liqueur, to be added before serving. Pastis, ouzo, or sambuca may be substituted.
After simmering the broth, add the seafood, then cover and simmer until the shellfish open. Be sure to toss any unopened clams or mussels.
And there you have it! Dinner is served. Don’t forget the sourdough for dipping, and please, don’t spill on any of your guests.
To make this cioppino even faster to cook on weeknights or for an easy get together, prepare the soup base up to 2 days before, refrigerate, then reheat and add the seafood before serving.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cups fennel bulb white part only, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 1/2 cup yellow onion 1 large, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 garlic cloves pressed or minced
- 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 4 cups seafood stock
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound cod fillets skin removed, cut into 2-inch dice
- 1 pound large shrimp peeled and deviened
- 1 pound sea scallops halved crosswise
- 1 dozen mussels scrubbed
- 1 dozen littleneck clams or other small clam
- 1 tablespoon anise flavored liqueur such as Pernod or Pastis
- 3 tablespoons parsley minced
Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and sauté for 10 minutes, until tender. Stir in the garlic, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, stock, wine, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
Add the seafood in the following order: first the cod, then the shrimp, scallops, and finally the mussels. Do not stir. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes until the seafood is cooked and the shellfish open. Stir in the liqueur, being careful not to break up the fish; cover and set aside for 3 minutes for the flavors to blend. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Ladle into large, shallow bowls, sprinkle with parsley and serve with slices of sourdough baguette.
Recipe by Ina Garten, Cook Like a Pro. Reprinted by permission Clarkson Potter/Publishers.
More Seafood Recipe Ideas You’ll Want to Make Too
- Chicken, Crab and Andouille Sausage Gumbo Recipe
- How to Make the Best Steamed Clams
- Chicken, Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya
- Linguine con Vongole (Linguine with Clam Sauce)
- Grilled Lobster Tails with Smoked Paprika Butter
- Peel ‘n Eat Beer Steamed Shrimp
Get Ina Garten’s Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks here.
Who else loves the Barefoot Contessa? Share more recipes you love, and what you love about this one, in the comments below.
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