Native San Franciscans will tell you that cioppino (pronounced cha-PEE-no) hails from the North Beach section of town and was originally made by Italian-Americans (some say Portuguese). As one legend has it, the name was derived from the cry of pre-World War II wharf cooks coaxing fishermen to “chip in” some of their catch to the communal soup pot. Other people say that “cioppino” is a local version ciuppin, a Genoa word for “fish stew,” or that it’s a corruption of suppin, which means “little soup.”
Despite its impressive appearance, this simple stew, featuring shellfish cooked and served in their shells, is surprisingly easy to make.
“The ‘catch of the day’ is still the spirit behind cioppino,” says Executive Chef Romero Miraflor of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, which has been serving fresh fish for more than 100 years in Berkeley, Calif. Although the recipe hasn’t evolved too much from its origins, Miraflor says, “It varies from place to place as everybody has their own preference on what kind of seafood should be included.” Although he asserts that tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine, Italian herbs and seasonings, peppers, Dungeness crab and garlic, are essential elements, Miraflor encourages home chefs to “use what is in season, local fish whenever possible, and whatever is fresh.” He adds, “The inclusion of our wonderful local Dungeness crab and other local species is really what make it a San Francisco specialty.”
Be sure to serve with red wine, crusty warm bread to sop up this rich stew, and plenty of napkins.