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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

San Francisco Cioppino

Yield: 8 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes


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.

Making this recipe? Why not take a quick shot and share it on Instagram! Make sure to tag it #ASpicyPerspective so we can see what you're cooking!

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

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74 Responses to “San Franciscan Cioppino”

  1. CattyCooksposted February 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Sommer! This looks great! Kelly directed me to ! Spicy Perspective –– I will add you to my collection of food blogs! I look forward to following along and getting inspired! (typo in previous post…)


  2. lauraposted February 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Sommer, this looks amazing! I love the story of how cioppino got its name. This reminds me of a French bouillabaisse – I am sure it is delicious!


  3. NANA Scrivposted February 5, 2010 at 1:25 am

    It looks wonderful. And it does require care and time. Think I can get fresh seafood in the middle of Oklahoma? I might have to drive to Asheville to get the real thing.


  4. Lana @ Never enough Thymeposted August 8, 2011 at 7:18 am

    We love cioppino! It’s light and hearty all at the same time. An incredible combination of flavors, colors and textures all in one bowl. Pretty darned near perfect, I’d say.


  5. carly {carlyklock}posted August 8, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Gorgeous! ‘Peasant’ food always seems to be so tasty and comforting – this dish looks no different.


  6. marlaposted August 8, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I will always pronounce the name of this dish wrong, but I will always know I love it. All that seafood is my friend :)


  7. Hester aka The Chef Docposted August 8, 2011 at 7:38 am

    I have to admit that when I saw “San Franciscan” I thought I saw “San Francisco” and started singing “San Francisco… the Rice-A-Roni treat!” Haha. Comedic lameness aside, I’m a huge lover of cioppino. The flavors, textures, slight spiciness… mmm! As it’s actually cloudy right now in So Cal (but it’s only 6:38am) it makes me wish for a hot bowl!


  8. Kateposted August 8, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I cannot wait to try this recipe. I LOVE cioppino, but have yet to find a recipe that matches the memory of my first, delicious taste of this dish. This one looks good!


  9. Curtposted August 8, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Shrimp, fish and mussels. Plenty of great seafood flavors in this one. Not to mention some great spices.

    Sounds great!


  10. Barefeet In The Kitchenposted August 8, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Yours looks gorgeous! Several people have mentioned this as something to try, but I just haven’t yet. I don’t normally cook with this much seafood, but it sounds divine!


  11. Heather @ Get Healthy with Heatherposted August 8, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Oh that looks amazing! Fresh summer seafood dish… Always good :)


  12. Cajun Chef Ryanposted August 8, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Amazing indeed, this is a bountiful seafood dish!


  13. Laura @ Family Spiceposted August 8, 2011 at 9:57 am

    We love cioppino, but don’t care for fennel. When we were visiting San Fran my husband tried cioppino at several restaurants and they were all different! Beautiful pictures!


  14. Tricia @ Saving room for dessertposted August 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I had dinner with one of my husband’s co-workers last night and being the foodie that she is, she actually described this very same dish to me! She said it was fantastic and looking at your creation, I would say so! I think she got her version from the Food TV show. Love the photos, love the step by step, and love your blog!!! Have a great week Sommer.


  15. A Brown Tableposted August 8, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I like the detailed and step by step instructions on how to prepare your recipes. Great pictures too! What kind of camera do you use ?


    • Sommer — August 8th, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

      I’m currently using a Cannon Rebel t2i and I use a 60mm macro lens for most of my food shots. :)


  16. Chrissyposted August 8, 2011 at 11:13 am

    mmmm I LOVE fennel! Also, I love a good Cioppino, so this is such a great recipe!


  17. Hester Casey @ Alchemy in the Kitchenposted August 8, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Sommer, this looks FANTASTIC and I love the theory behind the name.

    My family divides into those who are alergic to seafood, and those who absolutely love it. I’m making this for those lucky few who can happily eat all the ingredients in this feast from the sea!


  18. Eugeniaposted August 8, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Splendid recipe! And I loved the story about the name. In Italy this type of fish soup is really popular.


  19. The Cilantropistposted August 8, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Sommer I love love love cioppino and I adore your story about how the name came about! Too cute! I would love a bowl of this on a summer evening.


  20. Bev Weidnerposted August 8, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I’m DYING. I love seafood. Dear heavens why can’t we be friends?


  21. Jeanetteposted August 8, 2011 at 11:47 am

    This cioppino looks fantastic! I haven’t made it in a while, but my kids love it. The last time I made this, we were vacationing on Virginia Beach and I visited the local seafood market and picked up a variety of fish and shellfish. I looked at different recipes and took the best of each to come up with a pot of cioppino. Served with some crusty bread, we had a memorable dinner.


  22. Barbara | Creative Culinaryposted August 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    I could live with the less is more approach…I think it’s often seemed overwhelming when I’ve read the more is more recipes! Beautiful photos; beautiful dish.


  23. Lindaposted August 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    You’re right, this is not a weeknight dinner, but a labor of love for a relaxing weekend! You added an interesting ingredient with the fennel and your photos just make we want to prepare of pot this weekend!


  24. Angie's Recipesposted August 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Your cioppino looks amazing! I really love those clicks…esp. the 2nd one with garlic bread aside. Mouthwatering!


  25. Kathleenposted August 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I’ve been dying to make cioppinno! Yours looks yummy! Love the fennel


  26. Atriaposted August 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I love this one. I’m very into seafood but my partner seems to hate it so unfortunately I’m not making it quite often. This version of yours makes me hungry! Greetings from Poland:)


  27. Carolinaheartstringsposted August 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Wow. What a fantastic post. Great pictures. This recipe looks so delicious. Come over and check out our Southern recipes this week.


  28. Wenderlyposted August 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Oh heavens does that look scrumptious.


  29. Emily @ Life on Foodposted August 8, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    The cioppino was the one thing I didn’t get to sample in San Fran. This looks amazing but I am drooling over that garlic toast as well. Everything looks delicious; I wish I could have this for dinner.


  30. Magic of Spiceposted August 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Sommer your cioppino is perfectly delightful! A gorgeous classic that invites Al Fresco dining :)


  31. The Culinary Lensposted August 8, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I have some canned diced tomatoes an Organic Tomato company sent me to try and they have been searching for a dish and they may have found it or at least a version there of thank. Thank you this looks delicious. Bookmarked and Buzzed


  32. Maris (In Good Taste)posted August 8, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    This looks very gourmet and very delicious!


  33. Kellyposted August 8, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Wow this looks like the perfect summer dish! Lovely photos! :)


  34. Annposted August 8, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    This looks absolutely stunning. I’m allergic to seafood, but I just love the stuff. What a beautiful dish.


  35. Pingback: San Francisco Cioppino — A Spicy Perspective « Feeds « Local News Feeds

  36. kankanaposted August 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    And now I have to make this .. the mussels , shrimp and that gorgeous color broth!


  37. Shirleyposted August 8, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    I agree with your less-is-more philosophy. The stew, like everything else you make, is gorgeous. The plating, the hue of that broth, the toasty bread.


  38. pamposted August 9, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Just look at that rich broth!!


  39. Chef Dennisposted August 9, 2011 at 6:12 am

    what a beautiful cioppino, I never knew that story, how cute! This would be the perfect meal to celebrate any occasion with , especially with that bread to dip into the juices…..yummm

    See you soon!


  40. Georgia Pellegriniposted August 9, 2011 at 8:32 am

    I have always loved cioppino but have never made it myself. This is beautiful and inspiring!


  41. 5 Star Foodieposted August 9, 2011 at 11:50 am

    This cioppinno sounds absolutely wonderful! Excellent flavors here!


  42. Celiaposted August 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    So happy you got on the cioppino train! Seafood and fennel are pretty much my favorite things ever, so I’ve been a huge proponent for a while. Your recipe looks really delicious – I don’t think I’ve put tarragon in before, but I think I now have to try. I also love the “serve with sourdough” – classic SF.


  43. Steve @ HPDposted August 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    good looking fennel. very frondy.

    (spellcheck doesn’t think “frondy” is a word, but what do they know??)


  44. Kitaposted August 9, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    I’d never heard of this soup before but my mouth is watering now… Seriously. I need a napkin.

    :) I can’t wait to try a spoonful of this!


  45. Ilkeposted August 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Hmmm.. I feel like I can smell it from Charlotte! :)


  46. elle marieposted August 9, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    You are luring me in with all this food greatness, for some reason, seafood and summer go hand-in-hand. I’m dreaming of “old bay” seasoning now. = )


  47. Lynne @ CookandBeMerryposted August 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I love the tomato-y seafood-infused broth of this dish. So succulent. The shrimps are my favorite part, I have to admit. And your photos are so beautiful.


  48. Elizabeth @TheBareMidriffposted August 10, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Congrats on the Top 9 today!


  49. Cristinaposted August 10, 2011 at 7:10 am

    I enjoyed the explanation of the origin of the word Cioppino…thanks for sharing it. :) I’m in need of trying cioppino from a good place and then to try it on my own. You’ve inspired me to make this a priority with your well written post and gorgeous photography. What a lovely dish with complex flavors…now this is true cooking.

    Have a great week and congrats on the Top 9 today!


  50. alyceposted August 10, 2011 at 7:58 am

    love cioppino.


  51. Dmarieposted August 10, 2011 at 9:35 am

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


  52. Feast on the Cheapposted August 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm

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


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  55. Stevieposted August 31, 2011 at 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.


  56. RisaGposted September 4, 2011 at 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.


  57. Capabilityposted September 21, 2011 at 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!


  58. Karenposted February 3, 2012 at 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


  59. Christinaposted February 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm

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


  60. Lisa Cericolaposted January 24, 2013 at 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!


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  63. Nicole Bposted October 1, 2013 at 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!


  64. Nickposted October 1, 2013 at 10:00 am

    What do you suggest for side dishes?


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  68. Maryposted March 28, 2014 at 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.


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  70. Mikeposted December 14, 2014 at 9:32 pm

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


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