Cioppino, Hearty Italian Fish Stew

Zuppa di pesce California!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mealtimes. The gathering of friends, new and old, trading stories and catching up across the table. Bringing together family members, some that you may not have seen in ages, over a homecooked meal that arises memories from childhood. The networking of colleagues who chatter endlessly about the stress of working life. It is so easy to slip into oblivion of how much of our relationships revolve around mealtimes and how important it is to preserve their sanctity. Every rushed dinner, lunch taken at your desk or skipped breakfast is a lost opportunity to connect with the people around you. Not only do you lose out on connection with other people, but you deprive yourself of the chance to truly savour your food and indulge in every flavour.

The hustle-bustle of today’s world is frequently used as an excuse to justify speeding through daily activities, but what joy is there to be found in letting the days pass us by? We shouldn’t starve ourselves of the simple pleasures of engaging with our friends or savouring that chocolate croissant over a deadline or an upcoming presentation. I invite you today, to slow down and savour the moment with what has become my favourite dinner to prepare in the last year: Cioppino.

This post is in honour of my move to San Francisco, California this week where I hope to not be buried in the endless flurry of work as I begin my first full-time job. One of the most valuable lessons I learnt in college was during my semester abroad in Lyon: the art of doing nothing. A key element to that art is knowing how to slow down and absorb your surroundings, something I often did whilst taking 3 hour lunches along the Rhone. The French have truly mastered the art of lengthening mealtimes as a form of family bonding and savouring the food (but more importantly, wine), something completely alien to those of us living in the United States where it’s all about speed and convenience.

I’m not here to talk to you about the French, but the Italian influence in the San Francisco area that brings us today’s dish. Scraps of mussels, shrimp and squid that were considered undesirable were sent home with sailors and pier workers some 100 years ago that they would simmer in a tomato stew and have with stale bread for dinner. This is the earliest known origin of what has become a city staple. Cod can easily be substituted with any other whitefish, and the proportions can be adjusted to your tastes, I certainly didn’t hesitate with the red pepper flakes. This makes an excellent dinner party main and I encourage you to get out there and relish the meal with your loved ones!

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • One 28 ounce can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

For the fish:

  • 1 pound cod fillets, diced into bite sized pieces
  • 1 pound sea scallops
  • 1 pound shrimp, deveined
  • 1 pound squid
  • 1 dozen mussels
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 cloves garlic (whole is fine)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Some fresh parsley and a toasted baguette for serving!

Method:

1. We’ll start by making the stew. Heat about 3 tbsp of olive oil a large, deep pot on high heat and fry the diced onion and carrots until the carrots are soft, about 5 minutes. Throw in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Season with the red pepper flakes, thyme, oregano and basil and stir to coat the vegetables in the spices before adding the tomato paste to the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the tomato paste begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Pour in the fish stock, tinned tomatoes (crush the tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pot and white wine. Bring to a boil before reducing the heat to low and simmering for a minimum of 30 minutes.

2. On to the fish! Heat a large deep saucepan on the highest heat setting. Pat dry all of the fish with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle some olive oil into the pan and add 1 tbsp of butter before searing the scallops. Sear the scallops for a maximum of 2 minutes before flipping and cooking the other side. Remove to a plate. Add another drizzle of olive oil and another tablespoon of butter to the pan and fry the squid for roughly 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove to a separate pot. Add another drizzle of olive oil and the final tablespoon of butter along with the garlic to the pot. Cook the cod fillets for roughly 5 minutes before removing to a plate. At this point, the bottom of your pot should be covered in a dark coloured coating, called the fond. Pour in the white wine and scrape the bottom of the saucepan quickly to try and “clean” the bottom by incorporating the find and all that wonderful tasty goodness into the wine. Bring to a boil before throwing in the mussels. Cover with a lid and boil until the shells open, roughly 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Once the mussels have opened, and your stew has simmered long enough, add the mussels and the garlicky wine mixture that they were boiling in, into the pot with the stew. Add the scallops, cod and squid to the pot and stir to distribute the fish into the stew. Cook for another 5 minutes or until the fish is warmed through. You’re ready to serve now! Toast a baguette, sprinkle some parsley and you’re good to go!

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