This San Francisco Cioppino is a unique Italian-American specialty that’ll leave you wanting more! Also known as “Fisherman’s Stew,” this easy recipe is filled with clams, mussels, shrimp, and cod. It’s a hearty and healthy stew recipe perfect for chilly winter evenings.
Easy Homemade Cioppino (Fisherman’s Stew)
They say no trip to San Francisco is complete without an authentic bowl of cioppino, the unforgettable town’s delicious and distinctive seafood stew. But, did you know that it’s actually really easy and quick to whip up a homemade version?
I think that most of us probably don’t eat enough seafood. It’s really good for you, but often seems intimidating to make, especially shellfish. Plus, depending on where you live, fish and shellfish can be expensive. So if you don’t feel confident about cooking seafood to begin with, you definitely won’t feel confident about spending extra money on it, right?
But, fear no more! Next time you see a beautiful basket of mussels or tray of shrimp on the ice at your local grocery store, take advantage of them and try this easy recipe.
Also? Next time you see mussels, shrimp, and clams in your grocer’s freezer, take advantage and make this recipe! For real. I do it all the time. Plus, it’s a great place to start, and the result is full of nutrition and flavor!
What is Cioppino?
This stew originated in the 1800s in San Francisco with Italian immigrants who fished off Meiggs Wharf. They were often dependent upon their daily catch to feed their families, so if they came home empty handed, they would walk around the wharf with a pot asking other fishermen if they could chip in whatever they could for an evening meal.
Bits and pieces of various kinds of seafood would be added to the pot, hence the name of this seafood stew. The word “cioppino” means “chopped” or “torn to pieces.”
I actually love how this wholesome “Fisherman’s Stew” has its roots in community and coming together to support each other. Somehow, knowing the origins of this recipe makes it even more comforting. Just me?! 🤷♀️
You might find that some of these ingredients are a bit unfamiliar, including the fennel, shallot, and shellfish, but don’t be intimidated! They’re easy to work with, and make the dish sing.
- Oil: For sautéing. I recommend avocado oil or olive oil.
- Fennel: Thinly slice one fennel bulb.
- Shallots: These are so tasty! The unique flavor of shallots really adds a special zing to the broth in this recipe.
- Garlic: Press or mince four cloves of fresh garlic.
- Salt and Pepper
- Tomato Paste: I consider tomato paste one of my “secret weapon” ingredients. It’s so under-appreciated, but can add as much rich flavor to a recipe as good wine!
- Tomatoes: You could dice up about two cups of fresh tomatoes, but I use canned. They tend to be intense and tangy, and sometimes the quality (at least for soup) is actually better than off-season tomatoes.
- Stock: Okay, we have options here! I like to use a good-quality seafood stock if I have one or can make one. But, chicken stock will also work perfectly, and good-quality versions can be found easily at your local grocery store.
- Wine: You’ll need about a cup of dry white wine.
- Bay Leaf: The pungent flavor of bay leaf is almost essential in chicken and seafood soups.
- Clams and Mussels: You’ll need about half a pound of each, in the shell. The clams should be scrubbed, and the mussels scrubbed and debearded. Even if you buy your shellfish already cleaned, it’s still good to give them a light scrub and check for beards on the mussels.
- Shrimp: For this recipe, make sure you have good fresh raw shrimp, not pre-cooked shrimp. They should be peeled and deveined before cooking.
- Cod: You’ll need a cod fillet, about a pound. I like to use cod in this recipe because it’s firm and meaty, and won’t fall apart in the soup like more delicate fish. Dice the cod into two-inch pieces.
- Fresh Parsley: Chop up about one-fourth of a cup of fresh parsley.
- Red Pepper Flakes: These are an optional garnish; they add a nice kick to the dish.
- Lemon Wedges: Serve each person a lemon wedge or two with their soup so that they can adjust the acidity.
How to Make Cioppino
This dish comes together very quickly once you get to the cooking stage, so it’s good to prepare and set out all of your ingredients before you get started cooking. Then, just before you’re ready to eat, cook it up!
- Sauté the Aromatics. Place a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil, allowing it to heat; then add the fennel and shallots and cook them for about six minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic, along with the salt and pepper, and cook for a couple of minutes longer.
- Add the Broth Ingredients. To your sautéed vegetables, add the tomato paste and stir well, followed by the diced tomatoes, seafood (or chicken) stock, and wine. Toss in the bay leaf, and simmer all of these ingredients, covered, for about ten minutes.
- Add the Shellfish. Uncover the pot and add the clams and mussels; cover again, and cook for about 4 minutes, until the clams and mussels begin to open up.
- Add the Shrimp and Cod. To the simmering soup, add the diced cod; simmer for 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until just cooked through. Stir occasionally.
- Finish the Dish. As always, taste for salt and pepper, and adjusting accordingly. Remove and discard the bay leaf, as well as any clams or mussels that didn’t open. Ladle Cioppino into bowls and garnish each one with parsley and red pepper flakes (if desired). Serve with lemons.
Tips for Success
- Clam Juice: Seafood stock will keep the taste of the soup at its lightest, ocean-y best! But, if you don’t have any, and don’t want to use chicken stock, it’s easy to make a quick seafood stock substitute with bottled clam juice. Just combine half clam juice and half water to make as much as you need.
- Seafood Forks and Napkins: Eating cioppino, or any shellfish dish, can get messy! The crabs and mussels are served in the shell, which means they are going to be lifted from the soup and have the meat taken out by hand. You can use your hands to lift them out, and a seafood fork to remove the meat, OR you can just eat the meat directly from the shell. Some people like to take the meat away from the shell with a seafood fork, and put it back into the soup. Whatever the case, be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand!
- Hot, Hot, Hot: This dish is best served immediately after cooking, so be sure to have everything ready in advance. That includes serving bowls and utensils, napkins, drinks, and side dishes, if any. Plus a place to sit. 😃
What Goes with Cioppino?
- Sangria: Since I try to make cioppino just before serving, I like to serve a nice cocktail or glass of wine while everything cooks. This Easy White Wine Sangria would be an amazing choice!
- Crusty bread: A thick slice or two of crusty bread is incredible with this stew. I like to dip it in the bowl and then bite into a crunchy slice soaked with seafood flavors. This No Knead Olive Oil Bread would be fabulous!
- Pizza: Okay, maybe this is a little counterintuitive, but a delicious artisan pizza makes a wonderful accompaniment to soup. Hot, crispy, and melty, it just works! Try this Easy Grilled Pizza and see for yourself!
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Working with seafood can be a bit tricky, so be sure to follow these tips for proper, safe storage and reheating.
- 2 Hour Rule: First of all, it’s important to move the cioppino to the fridge within two hours of cooking. If the cioppino sits out at room temperature longer than that, the odds of it spoiling are much higher.
Airtight Containers: You’ll need to store any leftovers in airtight containers for the best results. You can store in the refrigerator for three to four days.
- Remove the Shellfish: To reheat the cioppino, you’ll need to take the clams and mussels out first. Put the rest of the soup in a small saucepan over medium heat. While the soup heats up, take the mussels and clams out of their shells. Discard the shells. Once the soup is hot, add the clam and mussel meat into the soup and cook it for just a minute or so, stirring, until everything is piping hot.
- Don’t Overheat: Be careful not to overcook the soup as you reheat it. All seafood is delicate, and will easily dry out. The best policy is to bring everything to a good hot temperature and then quickly remove it from the heat.
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil, or olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 can (14 ounces) tomatoes, undrained
- 5 cups low sodium seafood broth, OR chicken broth
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ pound clams, scrubbed (See notes below about using frozen seafood)
- ½ pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded (you can buy them cleaned and debearded, but still check for the beard before cooking them)
- ½ pound cod fillet, skin removed, cut into 2-inch dice
- ½ pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- crushed red pepper flakes, for garnish, optional
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- Heat oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven or stockpot set over medium heat.
- Add the sliced fennel and shallots; cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in garlic, salt, and black pepper; cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add tomato paste; stir to combine.
- Stir in diced tomatoes, seafood or chicken stock, and wine.
- Add bay leaf; cover and bring to a simmer.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer covered for 10 minutes.
- Remove cover and add the clams and mussels; cover and cook for 4 minutes, or until clams and mussels begin to open.
- Add the cod; cover and cook for 3 minutes.
- Add in the shrimp and cook uncovered for 2 to 3 more minutes, or until cooked through. Stir occasionally.
- Remove from heat. Taste soup for salt and pepper; adjust accordingly.
- Discard any clams and mussels that didn’t open.
- Remove bay leaf.
- Garnish with parsley and red pepper flakes.
- Serve with lemons.
- Frozen Seafood: If you can't find fresh fish and shellfish, use frozen. I have made this stew with frozen seafood and it's really good! I don't even thaw it out; just add everything to the hot broth and it will cook through in minutes.
- NET CARBS: 10 g
Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.