Cioppino (or “ciopino") is a popular dish from the Italian community of San Francisco (ca. 1900), but the dish is also popular in Italian restaurants in New York City and on Long Island. “Cuipine” is the spelling given in the 1909 San Francisco Call, indicating that the spelling most probably comes from cuippin, a word from Liguria (Genoa) meaning “fish stew.”
Cioppino is a fish stew derived from the various regional fish soups and stews of Italian cuisine. Cioppino is traditionally made from the catch of the day, which in the dish’s place of origin is typically a combination of dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels and fish with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce, often served over spaghetti or other long pasta and toasted buttered bread, either sourdough or baguette. The dish is comparable to bouillabaisse, burrida, and bourride of the French Provence, and to cacciucco and brodetto from Italy.
It was developed in the late 1800s by Italian fishermen who settled in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Originally it was made on the boats while out at sea and later became a staple as Italian restaurants proliferated in San Francisco. The name comes from ciuppin, a word in the Ligurian dialect of the port city of Genoa, which described the local fish stew. At least one restaurant in San Francisco, the eponymous Cioppino’s, describes an apocryphal story in which the name derived from the heavily Italian-accented cry of the wharf cooks for the fishermen to “chip in” some of their catch to the collective soup pot.
Generally the seafood is cooked in broth and served in the shell, including the crab (if any) that is often served halved or quartered. It therefore requires special utensils, typically a crab fork and cracker. Depending on the restaurant, it may be accompanied by a bib, second possibly damp napkin, or a second bowl for the shells. As a variation, the “lazy man’s” cioppino is served with seafood shelled and crab legs cracked.
About.com: Italian food
A while back I got a note from a Bay Area food writer, who wondered what information I could give her on cioppino, the local fish stew. Though the name did sound Italian, I had never heard of it. Nor was it mentioned in any of my cookbooks, so I explored the web, where I found lots of recipes and variations, and a general consensus that the recipe is San Franciscan.
However, in the course of a discussion on cioppino that came up the Rec.Foods.Cooking newsgroup Michael Edelman said,
“Yes, it [cioppino] *is* Italian. It’s a Mediterranean dish not unlike bouillabaisse. And like bouillabaisse, there are countless variations, and everyone thinks theirs is the only true version. There are enough versions that the two probably overlap.”
To which Howard Isaacs (author, with Maureen Fant, of the Dictionary of Italian Cuisine, just released by Ecco Press (distribution W.W. Norton)) replied:
“To be precise, there is an Italian-American dish called cioppino, undoubtedly based on the Ligurian ciuppin (which means nearly any sort of fish or seafood zuppa).”
Armed with a geographic location and the Italian spelling, things suddenly became much easier. “We’re dealing, in essence, with a fish soup put through a food mill that’s closely related to the soupe of the French,” writes Diego Soracco in Slow Food Editore’s Ricette di Osterie e Genti di Liguria. “However, it shouldn’t be confused with bouillabaisse. Ciuppin’s roots, which are common to all fish stews, lie in the use of the leftovers of the catch or the market stall. It’s therefore a mixture of a number of kinds of fish, all of limited commercial value, cooked with greens, herbs, and olive oil. Only with time did it develop into the refined, rich dish we know today. It’s made throughout the Riviera Ligure, but is more common in the Levante (the eastern part of the Ligurian coast, towards Tuscany), especially Lavagna, Chiavari and Sestri, which appears to hold the copyright on the name.”
Main Entry: ciop·pi·no
Etymology: modification of Italian dialect (Liguria) ciuppin
: a stew of fish and shellfish cooked usually with tomatoes, wine, spices, and herbs
Live Search Books
San Anselmo Cook-book
by Saint Anselms Church
San Anselmo, CA
Cioppino or Stewed Striped Bass—Take about four pounds of striped bass and slice about one inch thick; put one tablespoonful of butter in a pan; add fish, some chopped onions and one branch of basilico, green or dry. Add also one can of tomatoes or one pound of fresh peeled tomatoes, one pound of potatoes cut in quarters and pepper and salt to suit taste. Keep covered on slow
Mrs. C. A. Pesenti.
9 May 1909, San Francisco (CA) Call, pg. 35, col. 3:
The piece de resistance was cuipine, an Italian stew, and Al Hanify, brother of Commodore Hanify, was the chief.
12 October 1913, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 25?, col. 1:
Chioppino, Marine Hash
Some English poet in “boullebaisse” has sounded the praise of that French epicurean dish, a mixture of fish stewed. The members of the San Francisco Family Club are familiar with both the poem and the dish, are fond of both, in fact, but always give the preference to the latter at the dinner hour. (Illegible line—ed.) every month—the members decided to have as the piece de resistance the Italian cousin, as it were, to this French preparation. It is called the chioppino and is a mixture of numbers of fish baked instead (Col. 2—ed.) of stewed. This is why on the menu card one read the effusion:
“There’ll be whales and snails and oyster stew,
Shell-fish, jell-fish and pompano, too;
And rocks and flocks of little white bait,
Mussels and clams and succulent skate,
Oiled and boiled and tempered with thyme,
In pot and pan will bubble and brew,
With dabs and crabs and dragon sharks’ fin
And vats of wine for all to swim in.”
The culinary artist in charge of the chioppino was J. B. Olsen, that picturesque and muchtroubled mining man, politician and court reporter, who once won the praise of the premier of British Columbia and his party of visitors by preparing for their entertainment at San Mateo a bull’s head breakfast. So well did they think of his role of chef in that instance that they urged him later on to come to Vancouver and do likewise. And last Thursday night his culinary creation was as substantially praised, for Tom Dillon, Clyde C. Westover, E. T. Barrett and others of the executive committee; Clayton Herrington, sire, and George S. Conroy, historian-treasurer, insisted this Italian dish must monopolize the menu of the next monthly feast. A salad from the tuna and clams a la creole were “personally conducted” by Chef Olsen at other stages of the menu. Fred Emerson Brooks, poet and dramatic reader, was there to entertain the hundred and odd friends. Brooks has promised them at a later date to read from his new poem which is being rapidly finished. In this new work, I am told, he gives from out of the mouth of a gravedigger, his kindly philosophy of life.
Live Search Books
Pan-Pacific Cook Book
by Linie Loyall McLaren
San Francisco, CA: Blair-Murdock Co.
Chop two onions and half a clove of garlic fine, with two branches of parsley and a stick of celery, and fry until yellow in a half a cup of olive oil; add a can of tomatoes and a cup of white wine and boil for half an hour; add two pounds of fish, cut into large portions (using several kinds), half a pound of scrubbed clams or mussels and a boiled crab (with outside shell removed), broken into pieces. Season highly with salt and paprika and simmer until the fish are done. Pour over toasted French bread in a large, deep platter.
California Fish and Game
San Francisco, CA
Pg. 130, col. 1:
The ciopino (pronounced chipeno) is one of the simplest, healthiest and cheapest ways of cooking fish. Originated by Italians, it is cooked and eaten by them almost exclusively. Ciopino is a great dish among the fishermen, some practically living on it because of its healthfulness and muscle-building qualities, and the ease with which it is prepared. When fishermen are out on trips for days at a time the only supplies that are taken are bread, wine, a little coffee and the ingredients that are used to make up a ciopino, depending on their luck to catch the needed fish. Butter is never used in the preparation of the ciopino, olive oil taking its place. There are a great many kinds of ciopino; that is, most of the people that cook it prepare the dish in a slightly different way. Sometimes it is what one might call fancy, shellfish, celery, parsley, wine, etc., being used in the preparation. But the kind generally prepared by the fisher folk is very simple and inexpensive, the olive oil used being the most expensive ingredient. Some prefer salad oil, which is less expensive and not quite so rich. The large sized fishes are generally used in making the ciopino on account of the size of the bones. Most any of the larger sized ocean fishes, such as the rock fishes, rock bass, sea bass, halibut, and barracuda, can be used. The wings of the skate are highly prized among the Italian fishermen for a ciopino; striped bass are very fine. Several different varieties of fish are sometimes (Col. 2—ed.) used. The ciopino is neither a roast, chowder nor a fry. In America, it would probably be nearer a pot roast than anything else. In preparing a ciopino the whole fish is used including the head, which contains some of the best part of the fish.
Ciopino, such as is made by the fishermen, is prepared as follows:
For five people use from three to five pounds of fish sliced in fairly large pieces, then prepare one or two onions, depending on size, by chopping them up quite fine. Place in a stewpot one-half cup of olive oil (salad oil may be used) and add the onions, frying them until yellow, in the meantime adding several cloves, garlic, and a little parsley. Add a can of tomatoes (raw tomatoes may be used) and cook for about ten minutes. If potatoes are used (a great many never use potatoes in the preparation) they should then be added and cooked for five to ten minutes. Add fish, covering it well with the tomatoes, onions, etc., season with salt, and rather highly with pepper or paprica, put on the lid and let simmer until done. Don’t stir. A little water may be added if desired. Serve in a deep plate. Ciopino may be poured over French or Italian bread.
Owing to the present high cost of living, the people should take advantage of the cheaper kinds of fish, which when properly prepared are just as good and represent just as much food value as the more expensive kinds. Get the ciopino habit and fool the butcher several times a week.—H. R. NIDEVER.
Live Search Books
The Bride’s Cook Book
by Edgar William Briggs
San Francisco, CA: Pacific Coast Pub. Co.,
CIOPPINO (Italian Fish Stew)...
Live Search Books
by Mobilized Women’s Organizations of Berkeley
Berkeley, CA [Press of the Courier]
15 April 1922, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. II9:
The fishermen of San Francisco have a very wonderful fish stew that they make with the larger and dryer fish, such as halibut. This is made by straining the seeds and skins from three cups of tomatoes and placing in a saucepan with one chopped onion and a seasoning with one chopped onion and a seasoning of salt, pepper, a little sugar and one tablespoon of mixed spices tied in a cloth. Let the tomato mixture simmer forty-five minutes. Place in a sauce pan four tablespoons of olive oil and when hot add one chopped clove of garlic and six slices of halibut, about two pounds in all. Cook on both sides and add the tomato mixture from which the mixed spice has been removed and simmer ten minutes. Heat four tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and sift into it four tablespoons of flour; stir until smooth and then stir it into the stew. When well-blended add two tablespoons of vinegar and two tablespoons of chopped parsley. Cubes of potatoes boiled in salted water may be added just before serving, if liked. This is served with toasted French bread.
Five Hundred Ways To Cook California Sea Food
State Fish Exchange
California Department of Agriculture
California State Printing Office
Cioppino or Chepeno...41
Eating My Way Through Italy
by Henry Aimes Abot
San Francisco, CA: Golden State Company, Ltd.
We tell the proprietor that we wish a dish of his famous Ciopino, a dish of which Genoese sailors dream during long nights at sea.
And no wonder! So many varieties of fish have found their way into this kettle that we give up trying to name them all. Ciopino is similar to the French Bouillabaise, but a lighter affair.
13 March 1949, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, This Week magazine, pg. 54, col. 2:
HOW AMERICA EATS
by Clementine Paddleford
SAN FRANCISCO: Supper on Fisherman’s Wharf
“Cioppino,” a California creation,
is a strange and wonderful mixture
of seafare. Here’s how to make it
SAN FRANCISCO’s blue bay stirred in uneasy ripples. Little fishing boats cast purple shadows as they rocked themselves to sleep there by Fisherman’s Wharf. Gill netters, purse seiners, trollers, crab boats, day’s work done, were bedded down for the night.
I sat in a corner of Tarantino’s Restaurant, its outer wall of clear glass, overlooking the harbor, looking into the West, all America at my back. There was Golden Gate Bridge, an arabesque in steel, delicate as spider’s webbing against the coming night. I could see lofty Mt. Tamalpais.
“What’s this?” “Your bib, madam,” said the waiter, tying a cloth of white around my neck. In red stitched lettering the bib announced “I’m eating cioppino.” The words were scarcely digested when the stew arrived. The first fragrant fumes wreathed up to make friends with the nose.
I poked into the dish with an exploring fork, a strange gathering of seafare—oysters, lobsters, crab, clams. Then the first rapturous taste of the sauce-steeped garlic bread—ummm, delectable sauce!
This cioppino, pronounced “cho-PEEN-o,” is a bouillabaisse of sorts, a kissing cousin of the bouillabaisse (Col. 3—ed.) of Mediterranean cities, but this a California creation found nowhere else. Don Sweeney, Jr., and Gene McAteer, the Erin lads who operate Tarantino’s, told me the name is a corruption of the Italian word cuoco, which means “cook.” A fisherman’s concoction made first by the Genoese who man the small fishing boats which chug in and out of the harbor.
The dish is made over charcoal braziers, made of whatever the day’s catch supplies. It may be shellfish entirely, or seafood and shellfish, the various kinds washed, cleaned, layered in the pot; then a rich garlicky tomato sauce added and the collection cooked. The fishermen usually leave the shellfish in the shells; restaurants and home cooks more often remove the meat. It’s all a matter of taste.
Add What You Please
VISIT San Francisco and eat cioppino or make it at home usuing the day’s market catch. Here we give you the recipe exactly as it’s made in the Tarantino kitchen. All but the romance; the sight of drying crab nets, the music of water lapping the gray timbers of the pier, the scent of night fog rolling in from the Pacific to enclose the city of hills in a gray wall.
A green salad is just right with this meal-in-a-bowl. Allow at least a half-dozen paper napkins apiece.
Those who live inland may not be able to get the full assortment of shellfish mentioned, but never mind, do as Western cooks do--add what you please. As to seafood, boned striped bass and halibut, cut in two-inch (Pg. 55, col. 2—ed.) pieces, are favorites for cioppino. Start the layering with the fish on the bottom, then tuck in the rest, any which wasy, but layered as to kind.
Tarantino’s Cioppino Sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 leek with leaves, finely diced
3 green onions, finely diced
3 tablespoons oil
1 No. 2 can solid-pack tomatoes, chopped fine, with juice
1 8-ounce can tomato puree
Pinch of thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups white table wine
Saute garlic, onion, green pepper, leek and green onions in oil until golden. Add tomatoes, tomato puree, thyme and bay leaf. Cook slowly two to three hours, covered, stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste; add wine; cook 10 minutes longer and pour over shellfish.
16 littleneck clams in the shell, uncooked
4 medium oysters in the shell, uncooked
8 large shrimp, shelled, uncooked
2 small lobsters or 1 large, cooked
2 medium West Coast crabs or the East Coast hard-shelled crabs, cooked
Allow clams and oysters to stand in fresh water for one hour to remove sand. Scrub shells thoroughly. Split lobsters in half in shell. Split the crabs in half; disjoint the legs. Place in layers in a deep saucepan. Cover with sauce; simmer, covered, 15 minutes, adding water if necessary.
Heap into soup plates, garnish with garlic-toast fingers and serve from the kitchen. See that each bowl has some of each kind of fish and a big helping of the piping sauce. Yield: 4 portions.
Many are the versions of this famous stew. Virtually anything goes if the sauce is good. R. A. Carey, a real-estate broker of San Anselmo, Cal., whose week-end (Col. 3—ed.) hobby is cooking for crowds, told us his way with the dish. He removes the fish from the shell, less messy eating.
Sumptuous Dining in Gaslight San Francisco
by Frances de Talavera Berger & John Parke Custis
Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Bernstein’s Fish Grotto
The Pride of Powell Street
Bernstein’s, until recently a Powell Street landmark, opened its doors for the first time soon after the earthquake. From its inception the restaurant kept cioppino, the famous San Francisco fish stew, on the menu.