Actually, the day after Christmas. But I think I can be forgiven for not actually posting ON Christmas…what with all the hustle and bustle and presents and booze and family. And booze. And the kids waking up at 3:30 am. And did I mention booze?
The big culinary feat this year actually occurred on Christmas Eve. I decided to attempt a riff on the Feast of Seven Fishes. For those of you who don’t know, the Feast of Seven Fishes is an Italian tradition (or Italian-American, depending on who you ask) served on Christmas Eve. According to my research, it began originally as a way to pass the time while devout Catholics were waiting to go to midnight mass. Being a holy time, believers refrained from eating meat (hence all the seafood) as a type of fast. The seven fish dishes (or 9, 11, or 13 depending on who you ask) are served over the period of hours leading up to the mass at midnight.
Now, my family isn’t Italian. We’re not particularly religious. We certainly weren’t going to midnight mass (did I mention the kids were awake at 3:30 am???) Still, it sounded like a fun idea – maybe a way to start a new tradition. But seven courses? NO ONE was going to wait around for seven courses – not with reindeer bait to be made, cookies to be left, and visions of sugarplums waiting to come dancing through heads. So I set out for an easier version that would still get me the 7 (not 9, 11 or 13 – no need to be an over-achiever the first time) required aquatic offerings.
Like my family, cioppino is also not Italian.
It is, however, a delightful soup/stew developed by fishermen off the coast of San Francisco that usually includes crab and whatever else happens to be plentiful while out at sea. One dish – sounded like the solution I was seeking. Having never made it before, I began pouring over various internet recipes trying to find the definitive recipe.
Turns out, there isn’t one.
What I ended up making was my version of a recipe created by Giada de Laurentiis changed to accommodate my crowd of ten (including two teenage boys), the seafood available, and my whims as I was cooking.
How did it turn out, you ask? AH-MAH-ZING! It was a hit with everyone, from the picky 9 year old to the grandparents and everyone in between. Seriously, lick the bowl clean deliciousness. Of course, we didn’t have to lick the bowl because we served it with lots of crusty break to soak up all the yummy brothy goodness.
The amounts I’m giving definitely make a HUGE portion – feel free to halve it. We ended up with plenty of leftovers – no problem there – like many stews, the flavors marry even better on the second day. (Just make sure you take out the seafood while you reheat the broth and then add it back in at the end to warm, lest you wind up with a bunch of rubbery bits.)
You really do need to try this. Trust me.
362 days and counting…
Christmas Eve Cioppino
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 60 miin
Yield: 15+ generous servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 large or two medium onions, chopped
6 large shallots, chopped
2 teaspoons fish sauce
8-10 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 small can tomato paste
2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano diced tomatoes in juice
1 bottle dry white wine
10 cups fish stock
2 bottles clam juice
2-3 bay leaves
2 pounds manila clams, scrubbed
1 pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound scallops
8 oz crab meat or two large Dungeness crabs, sectioned
2 lobster tails
2 1/2 pounds assorted firm-fleshed fish fillets such as halibut or cod, cut into 2-inch chunks
Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots, and a pinch of salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock, clam juice, fish sauce, and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.
Add the clams and mussels to the cooking liquid. Cover and cook until the clams and mussels begin to open, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp, scallops, lobster, crab, and fish. Simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through, and the clams are completely open, stirring gently, about 5 minutes longer (discard any clams and mussels that do not open). Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and red pepper flakes.
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with plenty of crusty bread for dipping.