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Traditional Cioppino (Italian Seafood Stew)

by Angela Gallardo in Holiday, Lunch & Dinner, Recipes

I’m so pleased to be sharing my annual Christmas dinner tradition: Traditional Cioppino Seafood Stew!  I’ve made this dish every year (sometimes Christmas Day, sometimes Christmas Eve) for 7 out of the past 9 years.  And many times not at the holidays prior to that.

It was my first “big girl” seafood dish that I made when I was maybeee 23 years old? So 15 years later, I feel confident enough in my recipe to bring it to the world 🙂

I love this dish for a holiday because it feels really fancy but doesn’t require all that much technical skill or time in the kitchen! The ingredients in the stew base work so well together that people will be wowed and also may struggle to place exactly what flavors they’re tasting.  Which is a sign of a great recipe!

A note on whether to use the Pernod: the dish already has a light anise flavor to it, which works really well with the seafood.  So only go with the Pernod if you know that you *love* anise and want the flavor to be even more prominent.

Cioppino Seafood Stew

Serves: 4-6

  • 1 medium sweet or white onion, diced
  • 1 2-oz can anchovies in olive oil
  • 8 oz pancetta, cubed to ½”
  • 1 fennel bulb with stem & fronds, diced
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 8 oz. clam juice
  • 28 oz. canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 large sprigs thyme
  • 6 sage leaves
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 lb. clams and/or mussels
  • 1 lb. shrimp, deveined (optionally peeled)
  • 1 lb. firm white fish (halibut, seabass, cod)
  • 3 tbsp. butter, cubed
  • Large bunch basil, chopped
  • Sea salt & pepper, added throughout & to taste at the finish
  • Optional: splash of Pernod Absinthe


  1. Heat a very large, deep sauté pan over medium heat (I use this 3 QT. All Clad).  Once hot, add a generous amount of high heat cooking oil (avocado oil, lard, tallow, etc), along with the onion, anchovies, and pancetta.  Sprinkle in a generous amount of sea salt and black pepper.  Sauté until the onion starts to soften.
  2. Add the fennel and continue to cook until softened and the pancetta has taken on a nice golden color, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato paste and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the white wine, clam juice, diced tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, sage, and dried oregano.  Optionally, you can tie the bay, thyme, and sage into a bouquet garni for easier fishing 😏 out later.  Stir well and season again generously with sea salt and pepper.
  5. Cover partially and turn the heat to medium low.  Leave for 20-30 minutes to allow the flavors to develop and the liquid volume to reduce slightly.
  6. While the base is simmering, prep your fish.  Rinse the clams/mussels.  Toss any that are gaping open and do not close again with a gentle tap (they’re dead).  You can try the black pepper in water trick to get them to spit out sand, if desired.  Ensure the shrimp is deveined.  And that the white fish has the skin removed and is cubed to large 2″ pieces.
  7. Pay close attention at this step because cooking the seafood properly will make or break this dish! Add all the seafood to the pan, tucking everything into the sauce as well as possible.  Move the heat to medium high.  Cover completely and leave alone for 3 minutes before removing the lid to check the clams/mussels.  They’re ready when they’ve fully opened.  Stir gently to agitate the shrimp and white fish and ensure they’re cooking evenly.  If the clams/mussels aren’t fully open, cover again and cook for 2 more minutes.
  8. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the butter and splash of Pernod, if using.  Season with additional salt and pepper, as needed.  Serve the bowls up with a sprinkling of chopped basil. Leftovers keep well for about 2-3 days.
1 Comment
  1. Helen Goché says:

    This is a great recipe. It’s also nice to see instructions of how to avoid overcooking the seafood.

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