Unique to the northern Pacific coast, fresh Dungeness crab, with its distinctively sweet and tender meat, is a favorite culinary treat this time of year. And what better way to enjoy this delicacy that in a classic seafood stew.
Cioppino, San Francisco’s famous seafood stew, is my favorite way to enjoy fresh crab. Two rules apply: you cannot have too much crab and you cannot have too much garlic. Named for the “chipping in” of whatever the catch of the day may be, this classic dish was created on the docks of the Italian fishermen’s wharf where a long day of fishing culminated in the communal dish of seafood stew. Everyone “chipped in” a few clams, some flounder or snapper, shrimp, and a crab or two, or three. It consisted of throwing the days’ catch into a big pot with a hearty broth of abundant red wine, garlic, and tomatoes. Not much care with how it was assembled, the sharing of this rich seafood stew made for friendly comradery and a deliciously satisfying meal after a hard day’s work at sea.
It’s a messy dish but that’s part of the enjoyment. I set a table lined with butcher paper, plenty of napkins, and bibs. And don’t forget San Francisco’s other favorite treat, sourdough bread. The crusty bread is perfect for sopping up the flavorful broth.
The stew, without the fresh seafood, can be made a day ahead. Bring to a simmer before adding the seafood when ready to serve. Don’t forget the sourdough bread and bib.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, in their juice
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 ½ cups dry red wine
1 cup bottled clam juice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds fresh hard-shelled crabs, cleaned and cracked
1 ½ pounds small hard-shelled clams
1 pound white fish fillet
1 pound large shrimp, peeled with tails remaining
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large soup pot over medium high heat, heat the oil and sauté the onions, garlic, and bell pepper until tender, approximately 5 minutes. Crush the whole tomatoes by hand into the pot and add their juices. Add the tomato paste, red wine vinegar, wine, clam juice, and vegetable stock. Stir in the oregano, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes and bring the mixture to a boil.
Reduce the heat, and add the crab pieces and clams and simmer, covered, until clams just open, approximately 5 minutes. Discard any unopened clams. Add the fish and shrimp and simmer until the seafood is just cooked through, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with chunks of sourdough bread.