Joseph had decided our next cooking collaboration should be Cioppino. Boy, was I game! I frequently dream of the blackened Le Creuset pots filled with the piping hot sea stew that they serve at the Sea Chest in Moonstone Beach, just a few hours up the coast from Los Angeles.
We needed a solid recipe that could compete with all the fabulous Cioppinos that Joseph has eaten by his father's side. If you look around, you'll notice there are tons of recipes for Cioppino. We were searching for something sparkly with a touch of wow-factor.
Strangely, right at the start of our quest, Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles' revered Pulitzer Prize winning food-writer, put out a call for questions from his fan-base on Facebook. He promised to try to respond regarding all manner of subjects from Los Angeles restaurants, to baking tips, to courtship advice, and even Rodarte's fall line.
Here was our ticket to the perfect Cioppino recipe. I immediately requested the best Gold had to offer. And guess what. He responded!
He recommended a Tadich Grill recipe that appeared in Saveur magazine a few years ago. Gold emphasized that this was in no way his Tuesday-night Cioppino, but a far more luxurious Saturday-night affair.
Cioppino is actually something of a poor man's fish stew originating out of fisherman culture in the late 1800s in San Francisco. Cioppino was originally made with the odd bits and leftovers from the day's catch. If you've made it yourself, you'll realize that it costs a fair bit more than a poor man's pay to actually make this dish.
In typical Joseph and Jacqueline fashion we went overboard. Big time. Jonathan Gold mentioned showcasing the beautiful Alaskan halibut that is just coming into season. I was with him completely. And it wasn't until we were paying that I realized that a pound and a half of that beautiful white flesh cost us fifty big ones.
I can't even tell you how much we spent on the crab legs. But it was a dazzling success of a dinner. A bubbling cauldron of red, overflowing with plump sea scallops, sweet shrimp, first of the season halibut(!), briny manila clams, lump crab meat and king crab legs, is a decadent stew well worth sharing.
Jonathan Gold conspiratorially advised against mentioning the two sticks of butter in this dish to anyone. And truth be told, we didn't whisper a peep about it to our guests. Of course, I have to be straight with you. Let's face it, that is no small serving of butter. There is no denying however, that it produces a stunning velvety effect.
The stewy broth takes a bit of work -- plenty of chopping and two hours of simmering -- but that kind of care develops a deeply flavorful base for this Cioppino. Dredging the seafood in flour and browning all of it is the kind of last minute, pain-in-the-assiness that I often steer clear of the night of a dinner party, but when you've got a three-man team working on the production, it's no big thing.
Our dear friends and family were delighted, and we were very pleased. I feel good about recommending this recipe to you, despite the fact that I have a couple of reservations.
In the end I am more of a soupy Cioppino girl. This recipe is best suited for those of you who enjoy a thicker, stewier Cioppino. Now, I may have allowed the sauce to reduce a little bit too much or perhaps we could have used a slightly lighter hand with our dredging. The butter likely contributed to this thicker, richer experience as well. I might tinker with the recipe a touch to arrive at a brothier outcome.
Those qualms could easily be due to user error. The only other issue I had was with the use of green bell pepper. And that is definitely just a personal preference issue. I'm not a big fan of green bell peppers any more. This recipe only calls for one, but the flavor is distinctly there in the forefront of every bite. It brought a definite cajun jambalaya/gumbo flavor to the Cioppino that I did not love or think really belonged. I might substitute a red pepper or omit the bell pepper all together in the future.
Just two other small notes. We added king crab legs, giving a half of one to each guest. For me this was a revelation. At thirty-eight years old, I'm not sure how I've missed these my whole life, but wow! The crab meat was incredibly sweet and tender and so easy to get at -- a really great addition to the dish.
And finally, back to the fifty-dollar halibut. I feel like a less fabulous fish, would do just as well in this Cioppino. The flesh falls apart too much to fully appreciate the halibut's wonderful texture and taste.
Other than those bits of nit-pickiness, I can whole-heartedly suggest you make this quite spectacular Cioppino for your next spendy dinner party. Your guests will be in for a real treat. Just don't forget to serve it with a crusty sourdough boule, and some Irish butter (conveniently available at Trader Joe's these days!).
Tadich Grill Cioppino
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 leek, white part only, trimmed, cleaned, and chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
2 28-ounce cans crushed Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 pinches cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds halibut filet, cut into large pieces
16 sea scallops
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound raw bay shrimp, if available, or smallest shrimp available, peeled
1-2 cups flour
12 ounces crabmeat, preferably dungeness, picked over
2 cups dry white wine
16 manila clams, scrubbed
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
Warm 1/2 cup of the oil and 8 tablespoons of butter in a big pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring frequently add the carrots, celery, peppers, leeks, and fennel, cooking for approximately 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, 4 cups of water, the dried herbs and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours stirring every so often.
Heat the remaining 1/2 cup oil, and 8 tablespoons butter in a large heavy pan over high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute. Dredge the halibut, scallops, and both sizes of shrimp, in the flour. Be sure to shake off any excess flour. In two batches, cook the seafood until golden, approximately 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the sauce pot and add the crabmeat. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the wine to the pan and heat over high heat. Scrape up any browned bits from the seafood. Add the clams and cover. Cook until all the clams have opened, approximately 5 minutes. Toss out any clams that do not open. Add the clams and the broth to the pot. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Serve in large bowls, garnished with the chopped parsley.