San Franciscan Cioppino

Cioppino Recipe

It was luring me. Making it’s beguiling qualities present at every turn. Cioppino.

First I watched a celebrity chef make it on TV. Next, a friend of mine found a cioppino recipe and emailed it to me. A few weeks later, I came across yet another version of cioppino in a beloved cookbook, previously undiscovered. And again, fish soup, printed in the next edition of my favorite magazine. Cioppino. I couldn’t escape it! It must be made… and soon.

Pronounced “Chip-een-o.” An American creation from San Fransisco. Fishermen and fishmongers–mostly Italian immigrants–invented this at the market. The story goes, one said to another, “Can you chip-in-o somma feesh?” “Si!” “And you, chip-in-o somma clams?” “Si, si.” This continued until every necessary item was “chipped in” for a fantastic communal meal.


Regardless of it’s humble origin, this is the most lovely seafood stew I have ever had the honor of tasting. This is no Tuesday night, throw-together dinner. Cioppino is an event in a bowl!

The broth alone has a wonderfully complex fusion of both robust and delicate flavors. And the seafood… anything you add clams or lobster to, can’t be bad. This is a perfect show-off meal, but can certainly be served in a casual setting.

Ingredients that must be “chipped in” include: white fish (cod, halibut, pollock), shellfish (lobster, crab, shrimp) and mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels) Some recipes I came across included 5-6 different types of seafood. But, I’m a less is more kind of girl, so 1 item from each group for me. Any variety is acceptable; buy the freshest seafood you can find.

How To Make Cioppino

The wine you select is important. Use a light red like a Rioja or Pinot Noir. The wine produces a brilliant color and intense depth of flavor. Choice something you would drink. You don’t want to ruin your high-quality seafood with lousy wine.

The lesson learned here: When opportunity presents itself over and over, take it as a sign from above! Something delicious is bound to come out of it.

MY Cioppino, is a culmination of what I considered the highlights in each recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Cook’s Notes:

Dealing with fennel. First cut off the stalks. You can use the fronds later in the week. (Think salads, sauces, mixed with goat cheese, sprinkled over fruit…) Then half the bulb and remove the core. Now they are ready to slice.

How To Trim FennelHow To Cut Fennel

Make sure to check every mollusk before adding to the cioppino. If the shells are cracked or opened, THROW THEM OUT. Those that are just slightly open may still be fresh. Squeeze them shut to check ~ If they stay closed, they are still fine to add to the pot.

How To Check Mussels


Yield: 8 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

San Francisco Cioppino


2 Tb. olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced
3 Tb. tomato paste
1 Tb. dried tarragon (2 Tb. fresh)
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large pinch of saffron
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. salt
Black pepper to taste
1 ½ cups wine
1- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1- 32 oz. carton of seafood stock
1 ½ lbs. little neck clams or mussels
1 lb. firm white fish
1 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled
1-2 Tb. flour
Lemon wedges and chopped parsley for garnishing


Prepare the fennel: Cut off the stalks. You can use the fronds later in the week. (Think salads, sauces, mixed with goat cheese, sprinkled over fruit...) Then half the bulb and remove the core. Slice the bulb thin. You may want to quarter the bulb for smaller slices.

Place a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tb. of oil to the pot. Sauté the fennel and onions for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and tomato paste.

Sauté one more minute; then add the tarragon, thyme, saffron, red pepper, bay, salt and pepper. Mix well. Next pour in the wine, stock and tomatoes. Bring the stew to a boil. Lower the heat, COVER, and simmer for AT LEAST 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the fish into 1 inch cubes and toss the fish and shrimp in flour.

Rinse and check all mollusks for freshness. They should all be completely closed. If they are open, squeeze them shut. If they don’t instantly close up again, THROW THEM OUT. Any open or cracked mollusk should NOT go in the Cioppino!

Once the stew has simmered for 30+ minutes, add the mollusks. Stir and allow them to cook for 3-5 minutes until they are mostly opened. Next add the fish and shrimp. Stir well and simmer another 3-5 minutes. The broth should thicken and all the mollusks should open wide.

Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and any unopened mollusks. Garnish the Cioppino with parsley and lemon wedges; then serve with LOTS of warm crusty sourdough bread or Parmesan toast.

San Fransisco CioppinoGorgeous “Modern Grace” Porcelain from Villeroy & Boch.

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73 Responses to “San Franciscan Cioppino”

  1. #
    Dmarie — August 10, 2011 @ 9:35 am

    oh, how I wish fresh seafood were available in western Kentucky…this looks divine!!


  2. #
    Feast on the Cheap — August 11, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

    Looks fabulous…you’re invited to dinner any night, as long as you’re cooking!


  3. #
    Stevie — August 31, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

    I’ve never heard the idea that the name comes from “chip-in-o.” That said, this is the best fish soup. It is really popular here in San Francisco. Once we had it at home with a dark syrah added. It created a breathtakingly dark broth that was stunning. I’ve heard, too, that you can use white wine for a very light visual effect.


  4. #
    RisaG — September 4, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

    I’ve made Cioppino before. It is excellent. A few pieces of bread and the broth from a bowl are just made for each other. You are making me hungry and I just ate 2 hours ago.


  5. #
    Capability — September 21, 2011 @ 8:41 am

    I can’t wait to make this – Love Ciopinno! Great site and so glad I came over from SITS – Hope your day is fun!


  6. #
    Karen — February 3, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

    Saw your recipe on Tasty Kitchen. Just what I was looking for for my birthday family dinner tomorrow night. I have read lots of Cioppino recipes in my search, yours sounds like the right one. Can’t wait to taste it. Thanks! A new fan


  7. #
    Christina — February 9, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

    My goodness. This looks so delish!
    Can’t wait to try this recipe.


  8. #
    Lisa Cericola — January 24, 2013 @ 8:27 am

    Hi Summer,

    My name is Lisa Cericola; I’m the food editor at iVillage.

    We’re working on a Super Bowl food story with recipes from San Francisco and Baltimore and came across your recipe for cioppino. We love the photo and would like to feature it and link back to your recipe, if you’re okay with that.

    Please let me know as soon as possible!


    • Sommer — January 24th, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

      Hi Lisa! Thanks, that would be great!


  9. #
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  10. #
    Nicole B — October 1, 2013 @ 2:03 am

    This looks delicious! Great local flavors as well. I’m still getting over my aversion to seafood though so I did a twist on it with out the fish and substituted it for some good old fashioned meat balls! on my blog Thanks for the continued inspiration!


  11. #
    Nick — October 1, 2013 @ 10:00 am

    What do you suggest for side dishes?


  12. #
    Mary — March 28, 2014 @ 10:36 am

    I’m having a hard time finding prepared seafood stock on the SF Peninsula. Does anyone know where it’s available? What would you suggest as a substitute? My cioppino recipe does not call for so much liquid and uses tomato sauce instead of tomato paste, but I really want to try this recipe for a family gathering. Thank you for any hints.


  13. #
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  14. #
    Mike — December 14, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

    Looks excellent! However, it’s not a true SanFranciscan Cioppino without fresh Dungeness crab.



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