…imitate the best right from the start because that is the only way to learn… -Yamaoka Tesshu
It’s been about a year since my wife and I were in San Francisco as part of our postponed honeymoon. So I thought I might surprise her by doing a signature dish of the city: cioppino. I’d never made it before, so I thought I’d find a recipe as a template. Looking about the internet, I came across a recipe from Saveur/Tadich Grill. The online recipe can be found here:
Reading over the recipe, I realized that it was composed of mirepoix, an herbed seasoned tomato based broth and quick fried seafood. I decided to make a few changes to the recipe. To begin, I dropped the butter and then I dropped the fry/sear of the seafood to make the dish ‘lighter’. Since the meal was just for my wife and I, I cut the recipe amounts in half. Instead of using water, I decided to add a taste twist – since the recipe was using a 1 1/3 pound of mirepoix and 28 oz of canned tomato and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, I read that as “get inspired – increase the umami: forget the water – use 2 cups of dashi!”.
To start the dish, I prepared 2/3 lb of diced yellow onion and about 1/3 lb each of diced de-stringed celery and 1/3 lb of diced carrots and finely diced up the white portion of a leek.
As per the recipe, I finely diced 1/2 a small bulb of fennel and finely diced a cleaned deseeded green pepper.
So I got the mirepoix started in my stew pot with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and got the vegetables ‘sweated down’. Once the mirepoix was cooked down, I added in the diced fennel and green bell
pepper and heated that through. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a can of crushed tomatoes; but I
could find a can of San Marzano tomatoes, and to address the ‘crushed’ aspect, I threw the tomatoes into
my mini food processor and then transferred the processed tomatoes into the stew pot with the
vegetables and then added the 1 tablespoon of tomato paste.
At this point, I went ahead and threw in my change up of the dashi with 2 teaspoons of 4:1 salt/pepper
mix (the total amount of fluid, including the white wine would be a little more than 6 cups). At this point I added in the seasonings of 1/2 teaspoon each of dried oregano, thyme, basil as well as 2 bay leaves and a pinch of esplette pepper powder.
The stew pot was set on about 25% max heat, covered it and cooked it for about an hour.
After an hour went by, I tasted the stew and felt it was ‘ready’ for the seafood (instead of the required 2 hours – probably because I used the dashi and broke down the tomatoes in the food processor). Since the recipe had its origins in fish scraps cooked with a vegetable puree, I decided to forgo the frying step and to make the dish lighter by just adding the seafood to the stew (not unlike Japanese nabe). But what to do with the garlic element of the dish? Well I decided to address that issue by applying a Nobu technique of adding the garlic as a GRATED
clove directly into the stew.
So I began adding the seafood to the tomato base (the halibut had been cut into bite sized pieces).
Once the fresh seafood was in, I added the container of blue crabmeat that I picked up from Whole Foods,
Newtonville. I brought the stew up to 50% max power to simmer for 15 minutes. In the meantime, I prepared the final step by adding the clams and a cup of the Angeline Chardonnay into a separate pot
and brought that to a boil until the clams opened. The clams and the liquid were added to main stew
pot and left to finish simmering. When the 15 minutes were up, I took the cioppino off the heat. Just before I served up the bowls of cioppino, I popped some slices of sourdough bread into the toaster to help sop up all those good flavors.
I must say, the cioppino turned out better than expected for my first time making the dish (let alone adding a few of the changes). It’s going to be nice to have another stew/soup dish in my repertoire, especially when it’s a cold/wet day.
One Quick Note: The bay leaves aren’t meant to be eaten; they can be discarded at the end of the cooking process