Classic Cioppino (San Francisco-Style Seafood Stew)

Classic Cioppino is a hearty Italian seafood stew that became famous in San Francisco.  San Francisco is one of our most favorite cities in the world, with one of the key reasons being the food.

Of course, with the city snuggly tucked into the gorgeous San Fran bay, the seafood is bountiful.

Every time we hit this magical city, we have to get a bowl of the heartwarming dish.

Classic cioppino in a large blue Dutch oven.

HOW TO MAKE CLASSIC CIOPPINO

Talk about a show-stopper of a dish.

Watch us show you how easy it is to make Classic Cioppino at home!

 

This amazing stew starts with with a sautéed trilogy of flavorful aromatics of onion, red bell pepper and celery.

And that’s just the start.

You’ll need a large pot for this classic cioppino, and I really love using my large Dutch oven.

onion, red pepper and celery sautéing for Cioppino

A SAN FRANCISCO STAPLE

Cioppino is a seafood lover’s dream stew.

We love using fresh crab legs, and meaty mussels, delicious clams and shrimp, and amazing chunks of white fish like halibut or cod.

This stew is truly something to behold.

Crab, mussels and other seafood on a cutting board for cioppino

Cioppino was created in San Francisco by Italian fisherman. The history is fascinating…learn more here.

It’s truly a gorgeous pot of deliciousness and is really a lot of fun to prepare.i

The tomato base is so flavorful and intensely flavorful.

As this stew simmers on the stove, you won’t believe the smell coming from your kitchen.

Tomatoes stewing for classic cioppiono

During our last staying San Fran, I found a couple of local foodie folks who shared their recipe for Classic Cioppino with me.  I came home and played around with it, and this version is what we love and takes us back to the magical city by the bay every time.

It is a beautiful dish, and it even looks like it must be a super labor-intensive to make – but surprisingly, it’s really not.  You’ll need just a couple of hours to bring this iconic dish to the table.  And talk about a great thing to serve at the holidays, or anytime you want something special for loved ones.

This is now an instant classic in our home.  Try it…you’ll love it.  You can make the tomato base sauce the day before.  Then just reheat and add the fish and cook until ready (about 8 minutes)!!

Another awesome seafood dish is our Seaside Ceviche  or our Braised Halibut with Kale, Beans and Tomatoes

Classic cioppino in a pot

Classic cioppino in a large blue Dutch oven pot

Classic Cioppino (San Francisco-Style Seafood Stew)

This Classic Cioppino is a true favorite Italian seafood stew originating in the incredible city of San Francisco. It is beautiful, and actually quite easy to make. You just need a couple hours from start to finish. Plus, you can tweak to you own tastes. Enjoy!!
4.84 from 6 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Seafood
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Italian seafood
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 280kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 medium yellow onions chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper cored, seeded, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup celery chopped
  • 1/4 flat-leaf parsley chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes San Marzano are excellent, with juice
  • 2 8 oz bottles clam juice
  • 1 cup dry white wine Sauvignon blanc is good
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flake
  • 1/2 tsp salt more to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon about 2 teaspoons
  • 12 small hard-shell clams in shell
  • 12 mussels in shell
  • 1 lb extra-large shrimp peeled and deveined
  • 1 lb bay scallops
  • 1 lb firm white fish fillets cod, halibut, haddock are all good choices
  • 2 lbs fresh steamed crab legs

Instructions

  • In a large soup pot, or preferably large Dutch oven, over medium-low heat, heat olive oil, then add butter and let melt. Add onions, garlic, bell pepper, celery and parsley. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes (break them up with your hands as you add them to the pot), and add the juice from the can.
  • Add the clam juice, wine, bay leaf, basil, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt, and lemon juice; bring to just a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  • NOTE: At this point, stock may be refrigerated, covered and kept up to 2 days before serving. Just bring the stock back to a boil about 20 minutes before serving, lower the heat, and progress with the recipe.
  • Scrub the clams and mussels with a small stiff brush under cold running water; remove beards from mussels.
  • Discard any open clams or mussels. Let cold water run over shells for 5 minutes (shaking every minute, or so).
  • Gently stir into the sauce the clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and fish fillets. Cover the dish and let simmer for 7 - 8 minutes, until the clams and mussels open. Discard any shells that have not opened.
  • Add the crab legs and steam until heated through, another 2 - 3 minutes.
  • Try not to stir too much (it will break up the fish), and don't overcook!!
  • Remove the bay leaves. Adjust seasonings
  • Ladle sauce and seafood into large bowls and serve with toasted bread.

Nutrition

Calories: 280kcal
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21 Comments

  • This recipe looks amazing, and I can’t wait to try it in our newly purchased Dutch oven. I have a question on a potential ingredient substitution. I cannot eat bell pepper (strangely enough, I can eat any other kind of pepper). Is there a specific type of pepper or some other flavorful addition that you would recommend to substitute for bell pepper in your recipe? Thanks!

    • Hi there! So sorry for the delayed response! Honestly, there is so much flavor packed into this cioppino, you could omit it and probably never even notice it! If it were me, I’d add some chopped (seeded) fresh jalapeno, but that will give a tiny bit of heat. Poblano peppers are another great option, too, and those have very low spice level. Hope this helps and let us know if you make the dish and what you think. It’s truly one of our all-time favorite seafood dishes in the world! Best, Kris & Wesley

  • Hello! You listed juice of one lemon but it doesn’t appear you share what to do with it. Just wanted to make you aware!

  • Hi Kris –

    This recipe is amazing. It was my 50th Bday meal on 10/31. It has been shared with many of my friends. I am using it again for Christmas Eve as part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. My question is, how many days in advance can I make the broth?

    I will write longer review in the near future.

    Thank you,

    Kiki

    • Hi Kiki! First and foremost…HAPPY BIRTHDAY (though a little belated!). We are THRILLED you are loving our cioppino recipe!! And your Christmas Eve sounds amazingly delicious! You can make the broth up to a couple of days in advance if you keep it in the fridge.

      Merry Christmas and please stay in touch!! All the best, Kris & Wesley

    • Hi Januari!! So so thrilled you loved the cioppino!! That is truly one of our all-time favorites! Thanks for letting us know and for the wonderful review. That means so much to us!! Stay in touch!! All the best, Kris & Wesley

      • Hi Cindy, you can place the frozen seafood directly into the sauce, it will just need to slow simmer for about an extra 45 minutes to an hour. Let us know if you try it and what you think, or let us know if you have any other questions!

  • Contrary to popular belief (expressed here) today’s San Francisco is not in any sense a city abundant with sea food, if you mean seafood caught off our coasts and in our (polluted) bay. These days, impoverished would be far more accurate. The crabs piled up in pre-Covid Fisherman’s Wharf are Oregonians, trucked in. So is most everything else that swims or crawls within the sea. Crab season begins around the holidays, these days, if algae or migrating whales aren’t an issue. California salmon season is just as brief, and centered in Summer. Oysters are generally farm raised and abalone are practically unheard of on menus—-where once they were a coastal bbq centerpiece. Most everything you see in San Francisco’s markets (including the Ferry Building’s now closed fish market) is shipped in, sometimes from great distance, by plane. Imagine my disgust a couple of Christmases ago to realize that shelled crab meat, in the local crab season, at Whole Foods AND the Ferry Building—-was canned! I kid you not! I saw them open the damn thing!

    • Soooo sad to hear of this. Grateful for your comment. No surprise, most unfortunately.
      Still, I am making this recipe today with a couple adjustments. Wish me luck!! Tho I totally wish I had some mondo bread bowls to serve it in 🙂

  • This recipe takes a while so plan for it but it’s worth it! I bought Costco’s seafood packet from the freezer section and their crab that is already cracked in the deli Section and made his recipe. It was being in the Bay Area. Delicious!

    • Hi Sonia! We agree, this is kind of a fun weekend recipe to make! But, man oh man, the effort is well worth it. Sounds like you made an amazing batch!! Thanks so much for letting us know and for the GREAT review. We appreciate that so much! Stay in touch and all the best, Kris & Wesley

  • I have a question, What could you substitute the White Wine with, if serving someone whose a recovering Alcoholic ??? Or do you really need the Wine?

    • Hi Marcia, you could just leave it out, and it will still be delicious. When you cook the stew, the alcohol cooks out, but we completely understand, not worth even taking a chance. You’ll still get an amazingly delicious stew without the wine. Let us know how it turns out!! Best, Kris & Wesley

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