Ocean City Today

Cioppino Italian-American fish stew on menu this week

food for thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Jul 06, 2017

(July 7, 2017) Cooking is an art that constantly tests the boundaries of comprehension.

The continuous pursuit of knowledge must remain pure if progression is to prevail. The sources are endless so take heed and feast whenever possible.

Madeleine Kamman, born in 1931 in Paris (I believe she is still alive), is a chef, restaurateur, cookery teacher and author of seven books, who has spent most of her working life in America bringing the rigors of French technique to American cooks.

Kamman’s, “The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques, and Science of Cooking,” is a rich source of culinary mastery. Amazon sells a used copy for $3.25; it is a must for those of discerning palates.

Kamman’s philosophy of cooking emphasized the process of thinking through a recipe as opposed to simply replicating a particular dish. Balancing flavor through the judicious use of fat, sugar, acid and salt builds confidence which alludes to creativity. Following is an example where instructions can be misleading.

Kamman could not understand why the bouillabaisse she made in the United Sates did not taste like the classic French stew. After much frustration and several attempts, she assumed it was her mistake. Time has a way of prevailing and clarifying the truth.

It was when Kamman was teaching in Aix-en-Provence that she finally got her answer. The fish from the Mediterranean have a different flavor profile than the fish in America. The natural essence of the fish changes the basic components of the stew. This may seem trivial but it highlights the importance of details.

Cioppino, an Italian-American fish stew, became quite popular in the late 19th century near the San Francisco area. The roots of the dish and name are from Italian descent. Records of when this dish appeared vary from the Gold Rush days to 1930 according to food historian Jean Anderson.

If we continue with the teachings of Chef Kamman, it should be noted that we will gain insight by becoming familiar with the history of cioppino. This fisherman’s stew most likely originated on boats since 20th century fishing vessels did not have refrigeration. As a result, they were limited to canned goods, vegetables, wine and the catch of the day to make their meals.

The general consensus of the origin of the word cioppino is that it comes from ciuppin meaning “chopped” which describes the process of making the stew by chopping up various leftovers of the day. The subject of scraps is a clear indication that cioppino is not bound by the rules of exactness.

However, this lack of conformity opens the door to much debate. Republicans and democrats have nothing on culinary perfectionists who differ on every possible aspect on one of California’s most famous dishes. Exponents of the various schools of cookery get into a tizzy over whether red or white wine should take precedence.

The type of seafood and fish and combination of both is of another grave concern. The degree of spiciness simmers in the background which adds to the level of wrath. When you think you have heard it all, believe it or not but there are heated discussions on whether or not to include saffron. Cioppino takes on a life of its own based on what the ocean yields and personal preference.

Following is a cioppino recipe that can be served at special occasions year-round. Homemade or store bought stock is up to the individual chef. Feel free to improvise the ingredients according to personal preference and the occasion. Enjoy!

Classic Seafood Stock

3 pounds fish and seafood trimmings, rinsed and cut into 3-inch pieces

1 sweet onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 large celery, chopped

handful parsley, chopped

½ lemon

1 cup dry white wine

15 black peppercorns

3 bay leaves

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Put all ingredients in a 6- to 8-quart pot. Add 2 ¾ quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat; simmer slowly for 1 hour, periodically skimming away any scum that rises to the surface.

2. Strain stock through double thickness of cheesecloth, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Cool stock and refrigerate up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months.

Cioppino Tomato Broth

3 tablespoons good quality olive oil

1 large fennel bulb, sliced thinly on a mandoline

1 onion, chopped

3 shallots, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

¾ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper seeds or more to taste

1/3 cup torn celery leaves

1/3 cup fresh torn basil

4 sprigs fresh oregano

5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon Herbs de province

1 large pinch saffron

2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup tomato paste

1 (28-ounce) can of diced tomatoes in the juice

1 3/4 cups dry white wine

3 cups fish stock

2 cups chicken stock

juice of ½ lemon

2 bay leaves


1 pound uncooked large deveined and peeled shrimp

1 pound clams, scrubbed

½ pound mussels, scrubbed

1 ½ pounds assorted firm fish fillets such as halibut, grouper and swordfish

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots, garlic, red pepper seeds, celery leaves and fresh herbs and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients for the tomato broth. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. Add the clams and mussels to the tomato broth. Cover and cook until the clams and mussels start to open, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and fish. Simmer gently until the shrimp and fish are just cooked. Adjust the soup for seasoning and serve immediately.

Serves 6

Secret Ingredient - Flavor. “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

– Truman Capote

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