While this isn’t a ‘traditional’ ciopinno, (this recipe doesn’t have crab), it is a recipe thats evolved for me over the years. It is David’s favorite of all dishes that I make. It starts with a delicious and decadent root vegetable base of fresh fennel, onion, shallot and garlic sauteed in salted butter and dry sherry. That combines with clam juice and tomatoes for our sauce – surrounding a bowl full of fresh mussels, shrimp and halibut.

I serve it with a rouille. In foodie-speak, rouille is a fiery-flavored, rust-colored sauce of hot chiles, garlic, fresh breadcrumbs and olive oil pounded into a paste and often mixed with fish stock. It’s spectacular with seafood and once you learn to make it – you’ll serve it everytime you make any kind of fish dish, but with ciopinno it’s particularly lovely.

While many foodies will insist fresh seafood is preferred, there is no reason to not make ciopinno if you live away from the coast or somewhere where the seafood section at the store is mostly fresh-frozen. I lived in Idaho for years, and always enjoyed making ciopinno with fresh-frozen seafood. Fresh-frozen is honestly the next best thing – its frozen within 24 hours of harvest – and is still tremendous and good for you!  Just make sure to completely defrost any frozen seafood you choose to use in the recipe before putting it in your ciopinno. Flash frozen seafood is often encased in a thin layer of ice that will melt and add unwanted water to our stew.

First step, our root vegetable base:

  • a small fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup fine diced celery
  • 2 small shallots, finely diced
  • 1 whole onion fine diced
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 cup of dry sherry, measured out to 1/3 cup and 2/3 cup.
  • salt and pepper
  • a sprinkle of red pepper flake

Melt the butter in the saucepan and once it starts to bubble, add the onions and shallots and cook for 5 minutes or until they start to turn translucent, add the carrots and celery – and turn the heat up to medium high, as the onion starts to brown and the pan starts to sizzle add the sherry and cook until the sherry reduces by half. Then put the entire mixture right out of the saucepan into a blender and combine drizzling 1/3 cup more of the sherry.

Set this mixture aside to cool and let the flavors mix and intensify. I usually make this an hour or so before I get started with the recipe. This mixture will freeze real well to be used a base for any sauce.

Okay – lets get started with our sauce:

  • 28 oz. of fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 21 oz. clam juice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finelly diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Start with a soup pot over medium heat and heat up our olive oil, and saute the garlic about five minutes. Add the tomato paste and a 1/4 cup of our vegetable base. Allow that to come to a brisk bubble – but don’t let it brown. Add in the diced tomatoes and the rest of  the root vegetable base and stir completely. When that comes to a bubble set the heat to low and add the clam juice, stirring thorougly. Simmer for 30 minutes.

At this stage? It’s all about personal preference. Some folks like a thick almost marinara style sauce to have with their seafood while others like a thinner sauce more like a soup. I personally like the soup-ier version – but if you prefer the brothier version you might add another 8oz. bottle of clam juice to thin out the mixture and give the broth some room.

While the broth is simmering – time to make the rouille!

  • 1 red pepper, roasted and peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 slice white bread, crusts removed and torn into pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

In a food processor, combine the roasted red pepper, garlic, bread, egg yolk, Dijon, lemon juice and salt and pepper. While the food processor is still on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Set this aside. It should be a nice pasty consistency – for dipping our shelfish and food in later!

Now comes the seafood:

  • 1 pd mussels
  • 1 pd large shrimp
  • 1 pd halibut filet sliced into about 1″ square chunks
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

Some Bob’s Cooking readers might recognize this spice combination above as Emeril’s “Essence”. It’s a spice rub and mixture made famous by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. In a zip lock bag – place all your seafood and the spices and very gently move the bag around to coat the seafood in the spices. DO NOT SHAKE THE BAG – this is only to coat the seafood, shaking the back will break up the halibut and thats a bad thing.

Take the seafood out after coating with spices, and throw away any remaining spice in the bag.  Seperate out the seafood into mussels, fish and shrimp.

Add the mussels to the soup. Cover and cook until the clams and mussels begin to open, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and fish. Simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through, stirring gently, about 5 minutes longer (discard any mussels that do not open).

Season the soup, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve! I like the serve ciopinno with piping hot garlic bread and a bowl of the small bowl rouille on the side.