By April Lisante
There is something about the deep summer that makes me yearn for seafood. It permeates many of my beachside memories. Cracking crabs as a child at a Jersey beach, eating oysters with friends at a seashore hut in Cape Cod.
And then there’s the trip to San Francisco in my early 20’s that determined what would be my favorite way to eat seafood: cioppino.
On a vacation in San Fran, I headed to North Beach and then to historic Fisherman’s Wharf. There, on the docks, I found cioppino stew served in a bread bowl. Cioppino is a hearty seafood stew invented by San Francisco fishermen about 200 years ago, a heavenly concoction made with a tomato broth and shellfish. The experience for locals is kind of like going to Geno’s. For me, it was a revelation. And yes, it’s an Italian delicacy. Bonus.
But there is also another way to enjoy the summer abundance of the sea: bouillabaisse. While many believe it is interchangeable as cioppino’s cousin, this French version has its differences. True bouillabaisse is indigenous to Marseille along the Mediterranean coast and is made with chopped tomato, but uses a seafood stock base and saffron to give it that rich color. (I wish I could insert here that I recall dining on bouillabaisse at a quaint Marseille dock, but alas, that trip is on my retirement bucket list.)
Anyway, the reason I get so excited about both of these dishes is because they really are the most ingenious way to celebrate the summer’s best shellfish, and meaty fish as well. The traditional idea in both cases was to use whatever the fresh catch of the day was, both on Fisherman’s Wharf and along the French coast.
Here on the Hill, Campbell’s Place adds a Jersey Shore Cioppino to its menu each summer and keeps it on the menu throughout August. It celebrates shellfish in a big way, and owner Rob Mullen says Hillers look for it and love it.
“I typically think it’s a good summer dish because it’s light, it’s not a thick tomato sauce,” Mullen said. “Shellfish is really representative of the summer.”
But if you are making a traditional Marseille bouillabaisse, mussels and other shellfish found in the cioppino version are not typically in the mix.
Former Paris Bistro & Jazz Café owner Al Paris travelled the world and back and has been making bouillabaisse for the past 30 years. I asked him for his secret to the dish and his response was simple: a good seafood stock. Not the kind you pour from a screwtop cardboard container. No, the traditional French stew takes time, and needs a seafood stock made from scratch that uses whitefish as its base and simmers for about an hour before it is strained and mixed with the fresh fish.
The fish, of course, is the other key. You won’t find mussels and clams in the Marseilles version. Paris swears by meaty fish like monkfish, grouper and striped bass.
“The key is the seafood stock,” said Paris, who retired from the restaurant last year and is now a life coach with One Degree Coaching in Philadelphia. “But I always use monkfish. The other key about Marseille bouillabaisse is potatoes. They draw up the sauce.”
That’s the beauty of trying either of these types of stew at home. You can throw shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, cod or halibut — any seafood, really —into the stew and come up with a main dish that has it all. Served with a nice glass of rose, it’s heaven – minus the Marseille dock.
Here are two versions of summer seafood stew to try at home. First, Mullen’s Jersey Shore Cioppino and next, Paris’ Marseille Bouillabaisse.
Jersey Shore Cioppino
For the broth:
- One 8-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Pinch of saffron
- 3 cups lobster stock (can substitute fish or chicken stock0
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 bulb fennel, sliced
- 1 white onion, sliced
- 1 bunch chopped parsley
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- Salt and pepper
For the fish:
- 4 littleneck clams
- 5 shrimp
- 2 oz. lump blue crab
- 4 oz. calamari
- 8 mussels
- 2 slices toasted French bread
- 2 Tbs. butter
Start broth by placing pot on the stove over medium heat. Add oil and let heat for one minute. Add fennel, garlic and onion. Stir with wooden spoon until onions translucent, about 2 minutes. Add white wine and cook for additional 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, cook 3 minutes. Add the rest of broth ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes. Place broth to the side.
In another pot with a lid, start on high heat, add butter and clams and cook for one minute. Add a ladle of broth and cover. Once clams are open, add shrimp, mussels, calamari and crab. Add another ladle of broth and cover. When clams and mussels open, the dish is ready. Place in a large bowl and serve with toasted bread and butter.
For the fish stock:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 white onions, minced
- Whites of 2 leeks, minced
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 pounds white fish, gills removed
- 8 plum tomatoes, chopped
- ½ orange
- 1 celery stalk, cut up
- 4 pieces thyme
- 3 bay leaves
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 6 black peppercorns, whole
- 1 Tbs. sea salt
- ¼ cup Pernot liquer
- 2 pounds potatoes, chopped
- 4 quarts water
Slow simmer for one hour and strain, set aside.
For the fish:
- 6 pounds fresh fish, either grouper, tilapia, snapper, striped bass combination
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 1 Tbs. saffron
- 2 oz. Pernot
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- ½ cup olive oil
Heat saucepan on low heat with olive oil. Add two cloves of thinly sliced garlic. Drop in fish and cook on low. Turn over fish. (Now is the time to add shrimp, mussels or scallops if you want shellfish in the dish.) Sautee a few minutes longer. Pour seafood stock over the top to cover fish. Let go for 4 minutes on a low simmer. Serve in bowls with toasted baguettes.
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