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Growing up I didn’t have a traditional Christmas meal. Thanksgiving was a feast and my mom made Turkey religiously, but somehow Christmas fell off the radar in the extravagant holiday meal department. After morning church service and eating lunch there my parents were usually spent and rested for the remainder of the day.  I think we may have had Jewish Christmas dinner at Chinese buffets. I’m not completely sure, but I’d believe it if I was told that’s what we did. Anyway…

Being a seafood lover I was happy to learn that it was Dungeness Crab season in the bay area during the winter when we moved here from the east coast. So obviously, the Christmas meal decision in my house was done – Dungeness Crab. Unfortunately the season was cancelled this year due to some gnarly toxic bacteria that is infesting the crabs. So I turned to the great internet to search for answers to what to eat for Christmas!

I am not a fan of ham or goose … so I decided to stick to a seafood theme. Hence Cioppino, which apparently originated in San Francisco. (Pat on the back for keeping in local.)

I found a great recipe on epicurious.

As usual, I have trouble following recipes to a tee — using precisely every ingredient. This is a very forgiving stew, but important to keep in mind the relatively quick cooking time of seafood. Throw in the fresh seafood close to when you’re ready to serve.

Notes and substitutions:

  • Whole Foods ran out of clam juice! So I used lobster juice instead. I don’t think it made a huge difference, but likely added a subtle umami, briney flavor
  • Instead of clams I used mussels which turned out lovely
  • To keep costs down (without sacrificing taste, of course!) I used Cod instead of Halibut and used frozen shrimp and scallops
  • I definitely didn’t skip the king crab, but I served it separately and not in the stew which made it feel more extravagant


4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 (28- to 32-ounces) can whole plum tomatoes, drained, reserving juice, and chopped
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 cup chicken broth
1 (1-pound) king crab leg, thawed if frozen
18 small (2-inch) hard-shelled clams (1 1/2 pound) such as littlenecks, scrubbed
1 pound skinless red snapper or halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound large shrimp (16 to 20), shelled (tails and bottom segment of shells left intact) and deveined
3/4 pound sea scallops, tough muscle removed from side of each if necessary
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
Garnish: shredded fresh basil leaves and small whole leaves
Accompaniment: focaccia or sourdough bread


Cook garlic, onions, bay leaf, oregano, and red pepper flakes with salt and pepper in oil in an 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in bell pepper and tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes with their juice, clam juice, and broth and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While stew is simmering, hack crab leg through shell into 2- to 3-inch pieces with a large heavy knife. Add crab pieces and clams to stew and simmer, covered, until clams just open, 5 to 10 minutes, checking every minute after 5 minutes and transferring opened clams to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon. (Discard any unopened clams after 10 minutes.) Lightly season fish fillets, shrimp, and scallops with salt and add to stew, then simmer, covered, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf, then return clams to pot and gently stir in parsley and basil.
Serve cioppino immediately in large soup bowls.


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