My friend Toby grew up in Berkeley and whenever we see each other, we talk about all of the things we might cook together one day. It’s one of those conversations that happens over and over again but the plans never materialize, so at a certain point somebody has to say, “OK, are we doing this or not?” Which is exactly what I said last time that I saw him, pulling out my calendar (or, more accurately, my iPhone with the iCal app), forcing Toby to nail down a date. That date was last Saturday and Toby, showing off his Berkeley roots, promised to make sourdough bread from scratch. To which I replied: “Well, I guess then I’ll make cioppino!”
Here’s Toby with his gorgeous loaf of bread:
You’ll be even more impressed when you learn that Toby got the starter for the bread at The Acme Bread Company which is often acknowledged to make some of the best sourdough in the country. Toby’s bread lived up to the hype; it was on my shoulders to make a soup to match.
I scored a recipe from Epicurious, having never made cioppino before. Turns out, it just involves making a flavorful, tomato-based broth and then poaching your seafood in there just enough so that everything is just cooked through.
What made my cioppino great, if I do say so myself, was that I bought the seafood at McCall’s Meat and Fish, which sells real high-quality stuff. In fact, their standards are so high, they weren’t selling any mussels and clams that day because the weather was too hot for the good stuff; so I stuck to scallops, halibut, and white shrimp, which were all beautiful as you can see here. (Don’t yell at me, cioppino purists: I know it’s supposed to have mollusks, but not crappy mollusks!)
As for the base, it had a typical garlic/onion beginning, with the surprising addition of green pepper which definitely added a unique flavor to the affair–might you call it a “grassy flavor”? No, you might not, but I’m trying to describe that flavor in words. It’s sort of what you get with cajun cooking because green peppers are part of the trifecta there. There you go.
And for the rest, it’s tomato paste, red wine, plum tomatoes, clam juice, and chicken broth.
You know you’re winning when you taste the base, after everything’s cooked together for a while, and it tastes real good. If it doesn’t, adjust with salt; because after that, you’re just dropping in your seafood for five minutes and then serving it up.
Look at our happy customers:
The moral of the story is if you have a good loaf of sourdough (preferably made by our friend Toby), there’s only one thing to make and now you know what it is. Cioppino: now and forever.