Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes. It serves many needs that I have. One, nourishment; two, the taste, smell and feel of well cooked food; three, seeing others enjoy my efforts (nurturing); four, basking in praise (only if the dish is truly superb) and five, a very strong sense of self satisfaction. Of the many dishes I enjoy cooking, Cioppino brings me the most joy. My Cioppino can only be cooked in months ending in ‘r’, because Dungeness Crab needs the rest of the year to develop and grow. (I tried Alaska King Crab once and it didn’t work.)
In the beginning I used to make my Cioppino sauce from scratch, I was a purist. Since then I have found that the pre-made sauces, found at your local fish market are as good, with certain enhancements. I tweak the sauces with butter sauteed, diced, onions and celery and reconstituted, chopped, dried Porcini mushrooms. Adding a cup of a nice hearty red wine and a cup of the Porcini reconstitution liquid is a must. Chili flakes are a great addition, but not so much you burn out the other flavors.
The seafoods I like to include are; True Cod cut in 3/4 inch squares; Fresh mussles, cleaned and scrubbed; Hard Clams, like Littleneck, Topneck and/or Steamers, cleaned and scrubbed; Shrimp, medium sized, cleaned, shelled and deveined with tails left on; Bay Scallops, not too small; Dungeness Crab Legs, cleaned and cracked. You can figure out how much of everything you need, and be liberal. Start with like three of everything, per person, plus three for the pot and see how that goes. For your next attempts go up or down from there.
In a large non-reactive pot, dump in 1/2 quart of Cioppino Sauce for each person plus one quart for the pot (i.e. 8 people = 5 quarts). Add the sauteed onions, celery and mushrooms. Over med. to med high heat, bring the sauce to a simmer for 5 minutes (Don’t let the sauce boil violently). Gently place the seafood into the sauce and let simmer until the clams and mussels open and the shrimp turns pink. Cull out any clams or musssels that don’t open. Provide shaved Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, on the table, for those who wish to sprinkle.
Serving the Cioppino is my most enjoyable time. Each person hands me their bowl and I ladle in, hopefully, fair and even portions and give it back with the biggest smile I can muster. We use two or three layers of newspaper for a tablecloth (Shells get tossed on the table. Roll up the newspaper and throw everything in the garbage when done). We use pint canning jars for the fine, room temperature, Pinot Noir. We use dish towels for napkins (you should get very messy eating Cioppino). Don’t forget to serve ample amounts of country bread crostini or well heated country sourdough loaves cut in 1/8th wedges for dipping.
Try this once and they will be beating down your door for more.