Nani, a family friend, was an Italian doctor and former paratrooper and under water demolition expert for the Allied forces in World War Two. He taught me and my sister how to snorkel and deep free dive. He was a tremendous success anytime he entered a kitchen. I first met him on the Isle of Giglio off the coast of Pisa, Italy in 1960.
This is an expensive dish and it takes a while to prepare. It is well worth it and your guest will beg you for it over and over, once they have tried it. Use this for a big crowd. Serve with two loaves of the finest sourdough bread you can find. You need a very big stock pot (12-14 quart or larger) for this dish. I do not prepare this often due to the cost. See notes below for more advice.
In Italy, the Cacciucco alla Livornese (in the USA Cioppino) is made with Slipper lobster, mantis shrimp, Moscardini (little octopuses), Baby Cuttlefish, mussels, large clawed ocean prawns and the catch of the day which could include the varieties: branzino (striped Sea Bass), Scorfano (Scorpion fish), Orata (Gilthead Sea bream), Gallinella (tub gurnard) Triglia (Red Fish) and Monkfish. Cioppino is not unlike bouillabaisse, a French seafood stew, but it does not include saffron or fennel. Said to have its origins from “ciuppin"- a fish stew from the Liguria region of Italy and is very similar to Cacciucco Livornese. The word Cioppino is more identified with San Francisco where the Italian fisherman introduced it.
This recipe is a thicker version than the watery offering served in many “so called” Italian fish resturants in San Francisco, more like a sauce than a soup. If you want more liquid, do not reduce the fish stock as much, or add additional white wine and chicken stock.
1 1/2 large onions, sweet, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 pound finely diced salt pork
5 or more cloves garlic, chopped
1 tube triple concentrated Italian tomato paste
2 large cans of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 dry whole hot red pepper
3 Tablespoons chopped basil
1 Tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 Tablespoon chopped thyme
1 Tablespoon chopped sage
1 Tablespoon chopped oregano
2 Cups fish stock
6 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil in two portions, 3 tablespoons each
16~25 black mussels
8~16 large sea scallops
8~16 large prawns
8~12 ounces monkfish, boned
8~12 ounces red snapper, boned
1/4 pound sweet butter
2~4 lobster tails, cut up
2~3 Large steamed Dungeness crabs, bodies, cut into chunks
1 ½ cups white wine
2 tablespoons sweet butter
2 cups dry white wine
1 quart of unsalted chicken stock
1 rock cod head
Assorted fish carcasses and bones
12 Coriander seeds
1 onion chopped coarsely or 2 whites of leek
2 ribs of celery, chopped coarsely
1 large carrot, chopped
10 dried Mexican bay leaves
10 peppercorns crushed
Sprigs of fresh basil and chopped chives
Wash and rinse both the clams and mussels in cold water several times. Discard any dead or open clams or mussels. Cover them in a bowl with cold water, stir in a tablespoon of cornstarch. Set them on the counter for several hours untouched. The cornstarch will entice them to open, which may allow them to drop some sand and shed salt from the salted water they were raise in. Rewash in cold water before using.
Clean the cooked crab bodies. Discard small useless small leg joints, retain large leg pieces, crack these so their easier to eat, clean and cut up the crab main bodies into 4 main chunks per crab. You can have the butcher do this for you either for free or maybe an additional small incremental fee. Clean the lobster, cut off and retain the tail and large claws (if it has claws). Cut the lobster in half length wise. The cross cut the lobster tail meat into chunks. Remove and discard any loose shell bits. Place shellfish in the refrigerator until a half an hour before cooking. Now bring out shellfish and fish and allow them warm up some, a half an hour before the final cooking stage.
Prepare this 3-4 hours ahead of when it’s needed. Combine all fish stock ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook on high covered for 5 minutes, remove lid, cook another 25 minutes. Cool, then strain first through a course sieve then again through a fine sieve. Discard all fish stock solids. Return all the liquid to the large stock pot, simmer on low, and reduce until half its volume. Next prepare tomato base.
Sauté onions, celery, carrots, salt pork and the red pepper in 3 tablespoons of your best olive oil on moderate heat in a sauce pan until onions are clear but do not brown. Add chopped spices. Add 5 cloves of chopped garlic; cook on high 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook on high stirring constantly until the paste darkens which helps deepens its flavor. Stir in 1 cup white wine. Stir and cook uncovered on low for five minutes, then add chopped tomatoes. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add a ladle or two of fish stock as required as sauce thickens. Pour tomato base into the fish stock pot. If you are several hours ahead, cover stockpot and turn off heat.
To Finish the Cioppino:
Bring up heat under stock pot so it comes to a low boil.
Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and butter in a hot 12" skillet and add drained washed clams and mussels. When the shellfish barely begin to open, deglaze with ½ cup white wine. Examine pan for sand from the shellfish. Strain pan to remove any sand. Taste the broth and note its salt content. If it super salty from the ocean salt water, you will need to add less salt to the cioppino later. Then add the filtered3 broth from the pan into the main stockpot. Bring stock pot to a boil.
Add uncooked lobster pieces and cook 8 minutes with the lid on. (If you add the lobster whole (not recommended) they will take longer to cook, may cook unevenly, and be difficult to serve individual portions.) If you managed to find baby slipper lobsters, you may leave the tail shells on and cook them whole as long as they are 3 ounces or smaller.
(For more pronounced garlic taste, one could add more finely minced fresh garlic at this point.) Now add the crab, scallops and shrimp. Boil for exactly five minutes with the lid on then add all other fish into the liquid, boil for 4 minutes with the lid on. In the last two minutes, add back the clams and mussels pushing them into the stock. Turn off heat, leave lid on. Let the pot rest covered for five minutes. As the stock cools, fish will continue to cook. There is a lot of stored heat in the soup stock liquid. (Notice that the fish goes in whole which is ok as the process of serving and stirring the soup will break then fish up enough.)
Just before serving, check salt and add pepper to taste.
Serving individual portions in a large soup bowl and garnish with a sprig of basil and finely chopped chives.
- A word about the lobster.
Pacific spiny lobsters ($$$) or slipper lobsters are preferred over all others but Maine lobsters, if bought live are ok. If you are squeamish, have the butcher tail and claw them for you. Keep them on ice (do not freeze) until ½ hour before ready to cook, then bring to room temperature. If you place too many really cold things in the pot, the temperature will drop too much. We are timing things so we avoid overcooking items hence we allow things to warm up a bit just before cooking them, which is just fine.
- Controlling quality and cost. You need a good fish market. (Asian markets have a good assortment and are less expensive.) Prepare fish from whole fresh fish. Use the carcass and bones for stock. Fresh fish have clear eyes, bright red gills, and smell like the sea.
- Filtering removes any possible sand dropped from the clams or mussels.