Spice It Up

When “cold” weather comes our way, soups and stews are in heavy rotation at our house, and Brian’s Crab Cioppino is a standout. It’s a fun choice for an interactive dinner party because of the hands-on preparation needed. You can engage your guests in cleaning or cracking seafood, slicing bread, or simply allow them to sit and relax with a glass of wine and play the role of designated spice girl or guy, meaning testing spoonful after spoonful to dictate, “too much”, or “not enough” heat. You can guess the role I typically play in the cioppino preparation process…


This tattered, stained, tomato splattered piece of paper that’s ripped straight up through the center of the instructions has been tweaked and perfected with each preparation. Add this, delate that, substitute a little here and make it sing in all it’s finished, steamy, harmonious glory. Maxwell has been carrying this photocopied recipe from one of his Mom’s cookbooks for years and truly seems to get the meaning of “the joy of cooking” whenever he prepares this amazing dish.

Now every good chef’s recipe is open to interpretation, and this one is no exception. With plenty of room for creative license, feel free to add your own signature spices or favorite fish to the mix. The only notes you need to take if you’re following the above like a purist is that the original doesn’t call for much heat if any at all. Maxwell typically adds a heavy hand of hot sauce and likes to throw in scallops, mussels or squid for an even richer depth of flavor, depending on what looks good at the seafood counter or farmer’s market that day. And always, always, purchase the freshest seafood you can get your hands on. No canned clams or frozen shrimp here, please.

Cioppino is a traditional fish stew originating in San Francisco with Italian-American roots. Serve it with warm sourdough bread, a light, zesty red wine or acidic, crisp white to compliment the spice, but most importantly, enjoy with dear family and treasured friends. And if you read the recipe carefully, and like to follow instructions to perfection, please make sure you always check with your guests before cooking with alcohol.;)



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