Bouillabaisse, steamed mussels, Mediterranean seafood stew, cioppino….all of these classic dishes remind me of the day I came-out to my mother. Why? Read the story and you’ll understand. Believe me, you’ll enjoy it. And keep a box of tissues handy—I’m just saying.
I first made this dish for a group of friends who Jonathan and I like to regularly get together with for some fabulous dinner parties. I know what you’re thinking… gays who say fabuous and throw dinner parties…what a cliché. Well I’m sorry, but it’s exhausting being unpredictable all the time. Besides, I think we should just celebrate life’s little predictabilities. After all, if serving seafood cioppino with Dungeness crab in San Francisco is too cliché…then call me Ms. Stereotype and never late for dinner.
Dungeness Crab and Mixed Seafood Cioppino
- 2 tblsp olive oil
- 2 tbslp unsalted butter
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 cup chopped leeks (white and green parts)
- 1 medium white or yellow onion chopped
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 6 ounces of tomato paste
- 14.5 ounces of diced tomatoes with juice
- 1 tblsp dried thyme
- 1 tblsp dried basil
- 2 cups a dry white wine
- 4 cups of fish stock (ideally homemade, but read my post about it first)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tsp saffron threads
- 1 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
- 2 whole Dungeness crabs
- 1.5 cups whole steamer clams
- 1.5 cups whole mussels
- 1.5 cups whole scallops
- and 2 more cups of any other seafood you want to add (chunks of a firm raw white fish filet, shrimp, lobster claws, etc.)
For the Rouille:
- 1 slice of firm country white bread
- half a head of garlic (about 8 garlic cloves)
- 1 small Yukon gold potato cooked
- ¼ cup drained pimiento
- ¼ cup fish stock
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- ¾ cup olive oil
- baguette or two of good French bread
Prepping and Cleaning your Seafood
Rinse and clean your shellfish. For the Dungeness crab, remove the bottom of the body by pulling it away from the top. Then snap off the legs at the meaty bases under the body and rip off the front claws. Keep as much of the white fleshy meat as possible. Discard the head shell and all of its brains and random stuff I collectively refer to as the yuck.
If you’re using clams you should scrub them. If you’re using mussels, remove their beards and scrub them.
If you’re using shrimp, you’ll want to leave as much of their shells on as possible because that’s where all the flavor is.
Any fish filet meat should be cut into 1.5 inch cubes and pat dry. Pat any scallops or calamari dry too. Set all the seafood you’re using aside once cleaned and prepped.
Making the Rouille for your Cioppino
Prick the potato a few times with a fork and cook it in the microwave for a few minutes or as long as you need until you can pierce it easily with a knife then set aside to cool to room temperature.
Tear the slice of bread into large pieces and process with the garlic for 10 pulses in the food processor. Then add the cooked potato, pimientos, stock, yolk, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.
With the processor on, add the olive oil, drizzling slowly until the mixture emulsifies into a spread the consistency of mayonnaise. Set the rouille aside and move onto making the cioppino base.
Making your Cioppino Base
Bloom the red pepper flakes in the butter and oil in a large sauce pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is good and hot add the leeks, onions and bay leaves and sauté for 5-7 minutes until nicely softened and translucent.
Then add the tomato paste and cook for another 2-3 minutes allowing the tomato paste flavors to sweeten and develop before adding the diced tomatoes, white wine, fish stock, thyme, and basil. Season with a good amount of salt and pepper and turn the heat down to medium, cover and let cook for 20-30 minutes and then turn off the heat.
About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve dinner preheat the oven to 400° F. With the stove on medium-high bring the contents of the pot to a boil and add the saffron threads and half of the chopped parsley and stir. Then add all the shellfish, the pieces that take the longest to cook first. Typically the Dungeness crab pieces, mussels and clams first and then shrimp, scallops, calamari and fish just 3-5 minutes before you take the pot off the heat and bring it to the table.
You want to crack the crab meat before serving it so it’s easier to eat, but if the boiling liquid can get into the shells too easily, then the crab meat might get overcooked. So I like to cook the crab meat for a minute or two, remove them from the pot to give them a rough crack with a mallet and then I add them back to the pot at the very end.
If at any point you feel like you don’t have enough liquid in the pot for all that seafood just add some more fish stock.
Brush the baguette bread slices with a little olive oil and toast on a sheet pan in the oven until golden and brown for about 5-7 minutes. Watch them closely, because you don’t want them to blacken and burn. When they’re done, take them out of the oven and set aside to cool.
Once all the seafood is cooked, garnish the pot with the rest of the chopped parsley and stir it into the pot as you ladle portions out. Serve with crostini and rouille.
There are two ways to serve cioppino with rouille crostini, and both are fantastic.
1.) Spread a healthy amount of rouille on two slices of bread and place them on the bottom of a bowl. Ladle the dungeness crab cioppino over and the broth will get creamy when the rouille dissolves. The bread will be soften as it soaks up the delicious broth.
2.) Ladle the dungeness crab cioppino into the bowls and leave the toast and rouille on the table so guests can soak their bread at their leisure and stir in the preferred amount of creamy rouille.
- Adding the rouille is like adding sour cream or crème fraiche to chili. It’s not necessary, but it gives the dish this extra special yumminess! If you don’t want to go through the trouble of making the rouille then don’t, but you’ve got to at least serve a nice crusty bread with this dish because you’ll want to sop it up.
- When thinking about what seafood you want to use in this dish, I would be cautious about using salmon….it has a distinctive flavor that can over power the more delicate seafood and make everything taste like salmon.
- The cioppino base can easily be made in advance and you can just keep it in the fridge overnight and place the pot on the stove 30 minutes before you’re about to start dinner.
- To really kick up the garlic flavor in this dish since it’s currently only in the rouille (if you use that) is to rub whole garlic cloves onto the crostini once they’ve come out of the oven. You wont see it on the bread, but the flavor will surely be there.