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What Is Cioppino? And How It Became a San Francisco Staple

  • Cioppino was invented by fishermen in San Francisco in the late 1800s
  • This tomato-based seafood stew oftentimes contains shrimp, Dungeness crab, clams, scallops, and fish, but the recipe always varies depending on what's fresh
  • Along with sourdough bread, mission-style burritos, clam chowder, and sand dabs, Cioppino is one of San Francisco's most iconic foods

What is Cioppino and how did it originate? Here's what you need to know about this delicious and unique dish.

The History

Cioppino is a seafood stew with a tomato base that was invented in San Francisco in the late 1800s. The story goes that Cioppino came to be as a way for SF's Italian North Beach fishermen to sustain themselves on the leftovers from that day's catch. What exactly did that day's catch include? Anything from famous San Francisco Dungeness crab to shrimp to scallops to fish to clams and mussels.

Cioppino is a classic example of a dish created out of necessity that, over time, became incredibly famous and widespread due to how delicious it was (this has happened with many soups and stews). Originally, Cioppino was only eaten by fishermen out at sea... but this open secret didn't stay out on the open ocean for long. This flavorful fish stew began being served on San Francisco's iconic Fisherman's Wharf not long after its inception and the rest is history.

Today, Cioppino can be seen anywhere from an apartment kitchen to a dinner party to the menus of some of the best restaurants around the globe. Cioppino has solidified itself as one of San Francisco's most iconic dishes alongside sourdough bread, mission-style burritos, clam chowder, and sand dabs.

fisherman's wharf cioppino birthplace

The Stew

Cioppino is all about extracting as much flavorful as possible from a small number of versatile Italian staple ingredients. It started out being made in the middle of the ocean with limited resources, after all. Outside of the seafood, A classic Cioppino is typically just made with tomatoes, chicken broth and/or fish stock, white wine, olive oil, bay leaves, butter, fennel bulb, onion, garlic, water, and some Italian herbs and spices like red pepper flakes and oregano. Of course everyone prepares theirs just a little differently — some add clam juice and others add items like leek and celery.

Preparation methods, like ingredients, vary, but to prepare Cioppino you typically first bring to a simmer the non-seafood ingredients over medium heat then, after around 30 minutes, toss in the seafood and cover and cook it all in the stewed base.

san francisco cioppino

Credit: Flickr, PunkToad (unmodified - license) 

Cioppino is typically served with crusty bread — perfect for sopping up the liquid of this delicious tomatoey, winey, fishy stew.

With San Francisco playing in the Big Game this weekend, what better time to whip out your Made In Saute Pan and get in the SF theme by making a nice Cioppino to impress the guests at your watch party? If you do decide to go full Cioppino this Sunday, here's the delectable Cioppino recipe used by Clark's Oyster Bar here in Made In's home base of Austin, TX.

Don't have a Made In Saute Pan yet? With a stay-cool handle, helper handle, perfect-height walls, and an easy-pour rim, our Saute Pan will quickly become your go-to for chunky stews and braises.

made in saute pan

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