Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cioppino (fish stew)

A couple of weeks ago Lee and I went to dinner at a friend's house and were delighted to be served Cioppino. It was a treat, for sure. The hostess assured me it was easy to make. I asked my niece Savvy if she had ever made Cioppino. "No, but I have always wanted to try it," she answered (which totally cracks me up because when I was 16, I am fairly sure I didn't have a clue what cioppino even was!). Great, because I had never made it either, if you don't count the time I bought some frozen boxed cioppino from Trader Joe's. I am borrowing a recipe today from Rachel Ray.

Anyway, I had some fish from SLO Veg in the freezer (we just didn't have time to cook it when it was fresh on delivery day) and I decided to get it out and defrost it this morning. I also had shrimp, so all I would need to pick up was scallops and mussels or clams. We were going to the beach today in Avila Beach, so maybe we could pick some scallops up there. I wasn't sure if there was a fish market in town or if we would have to go out on the wharf, but we would find out. Kind of sad that I have never purchased fresh fish in Avila Beach before and I have lived in this area all my life! I barely get it from Morro Bay, which is closer to home. That's why I have it delivered with my SLO Veg box each week...automatic! What actually happened was we got to the beach kind of late in the day, spent a few hours in the sun and then went and got an ice cream cone at Reimer's Candy Store, then checked out the Avila Grocery store to see if they had any fresh fish. Nope...deli stuff only. Okay, to the wharf we go!

It looked kind of deserted when we got out there to Old Port on the Harford Pier, meaning there were lots of parking spots available, something you don't see along Front Street in Avila Beach. I parked the car on the paved parking lot and we walked all the way down the wharf to Old Port San Luis where there is a restaurant and a fish market. It was a weird kind of de ja vue as the first and last time I had ever been here was when we went to dinner at Old Port with our more grown up friends. I think I was about 20 years old at the time. Long, long time ago! Today it was about 4:45 pm, and wouldn't you know it? They closed the fish market at 4:30! Guess I will have to stop at the grocery store on the way home for scallops and mussels.

I was disappointed to find no mussels or clams at the grocery store we stopped at, but they did have some scallops there. (I discovered later had I stopped at the Albertson's in Arroyo Grande I would have found a great selected of shellfish). I guess fish, shrimp and scallops will have to do for this batch of Cioppino. I planned to prepare all the vegetables and fish, then let my niece put it all together in the right order. There is a certain order to it, because the fish chunks need to cook just a bit longer than the scallops and shrimp.

I diced celery, onion and carrots for a mirepoix. You know what that is, right? Well my niece does. As I was dicing up the vegies, she says, "Oh, you're making mirepoix." Yeah, I am...a "mere qua". Wish I knew how to spell it. Had to google it. Maybe if I had been raised on Food Network instead of I Love Lucy I would know these things. The mirepoix, butter and oil went into the pot. I deviated from Rachel's recipe, because I forgot the anchovie-red pepper infusion-thing, which is pretty bad because I had Lee at the computer verbally reading off the recipe to me. I just had Savvy add some anchovie paste into the mirepoix. It was fine. We added the chicken broth and tomato base, then seasoned the broth with a dash of fish sauce and a sprinkle of dried ground shrimp, two ingredients I happened to have in my pantry. I figured it would make the soup base fishier and richer. It did! Some chopped fresh parsley followed that, along with the chunks of fish which had been seasoned with salt and pepper. We looked at the clock and gave it five minutes, then added the scallops and shrimp. The pot was topped with the lid and we waited another 10 minutes. It seemed like a long wait, because we were getting not only the aroma of the fish cooking, but also of a coffee cake baking in the oven. Heavenly!
Finally, after heating up some sliced sourdough to accompany our stew, we all sat down in front of the TV and had a great meal.

Rachel Ray's Cioppino
1/4 cup (3 turns around the pan in a slow stream) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 to 3 flat fillets of anchovies, drained
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup good quality dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) container chicken stock
1 (32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed (about 1 tablespoon)
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 pounds cod, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
8 large shrimp, ask for deveined easy-peel or peel and devein
8 sea scallops
16 to 20 raw mussels, scrubbed
A loaf of fresh, crusty bread, for mopping

In a large pot over moderate heat combine oil, crushed pepper, anchovies, garlic, and bay. Let anchovies melt into oil. The anchovies act as a natural salt, the pepper flakes will infuse the oil, providing heat.

Chop celery and onion near stove and add to the pot as you work. Saute vegetables for a few minutes to begin to soften and add wine to the pot. Reduce wine a minute, then add chicken stock, tomatoes, thyme, and parsley. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to medium low.

Season fish chunks with salt and pepper. Add fish and simmer 5 minutes, giving the pot a shake now and then. Do not stir your soup with a spoon after the addition of fish or you will break it up. Add shrimp, scallops, and mussels and cover pot. Cook 10 minutes, giving the pot a good shake now and again.

Remove the lid and discard any mussels that do not open. Carefully ladle stew into shallow bowls and pass bread at the table.

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***NOTE: Rachel's recipe doesn't call for carrots, for a true mirepoix, but since I had a whole bunch of carrots on hand, I decided the cioppino called for it. Au revoir!

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