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Handline Fisherman’s Stew

Cioppino originated in San Francisco as a one-pot meal enjoyed by fishermen at the end of a long day on the water hauling in the day’s catch. Typically it consisted of whatever the fishermen had on hand, including Dungeness crab, squid, mussels and clams. The stew is inspired by a traditional Italian fish stew, its broth is a base of wine, tomato and the briny liquid released by shellfish as they are cooked. I like to use a crisp, dry white wine, which gives the soup a bit of a lift, making it versatile enough for a warm winter day (of which we have plenty here in Northern California) or a cold, stormy winter night. Last year was a really terrible year for Dungeness crab fisheries due to a huge algae bloom off the Northern California coast, raising the levels of domoic acid in crab to unsafe levels for human consumption and resulting in an extended season closure. The catastrophic implications this has for the fisherman is a vivid example of the importance of the stewardship of our coastline and an increased awareness of how our footprint as humans affects the natural food sources we have come to rely on for survival. As always, try to find the freshest fish possible for this recipe.


1/2 pound mussels
1/2 pound clams
1 whole Dungeness crab, cooked
1/2 pound rockfish
1/4 pound fresh squid
10 oz can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
Half bottle of dry white wine
Juice and zest of 1 orange
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 fennel bulb
2 yellow onion
Pinch of chili flakes (optional)
1 tbsp fennel seed
5 sprigs parsley
1 loaf of crusty sourdough bread

Clean and portion all your fish. For the mussels, remove the beard and run cold tap water over them to clean any grit off of the shell. For the clams, run cold tap water over them, using your hands to agitate the clams to clean off any sand. Debone the cod, and slice into bite size pieces. Remove the back of the crab and clean it, splitting it into quarters. Clean your squid, removing the body, skeleton, eyes and beak, and cut it into rings. Refrigerate your fish while you build your stew. Small dice your onion, carrots, celery and fennel. In a large stock pot on medium-low heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sweat your vegetables until they are translucent and soft. Add a pinch of chili flakes and the toasted ground fennel seed. Crush the tomatoes by hand and add them along with the wine and the zest and juice of the orange. Let simmer for a few minutes. Fill the stock pot to 3/4 full with water and let the soup reduce down by about an inch or 30 to 45 minutes. When you are ready to eat, turn the heat up to medium-high and add your mussels and clams. They should open after 3 to 4 minutes. Once they open, add your quarter crabs and squid. Turn off the heat and add your cod. The cod should always be added last to avoid overcooking it. Serve immediately topped with freshly chopped parsley, a drizzle of good olive oil, toasted sourdough and butter.


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