Italian-Style Fish Stew

This dish is also known as "Brodetto di Pesce" and "Cioppino."

The basic idea is that you saute some onions and garlic and maybe some spices and/or hot peppers, add some form of tomatoes, pour in some wine, dump in a bunch of seafood, simmer until it's all cooked, then serve it -- maybe over pasta -- but always with a good, crusty bread.

Regarding the name of this dish: The one thing I can say with some certainty is that "cioppino" has its origins in San Francisco (California). Some recipes I've seen imply that the difference between brodetto di pesce and cioppino is the former uses a mix of fish, shellfish, and maybe some squid, whereas the latter uses shellfish exclusively; other recipes do not support this. My own feeling is that this is one of those recipes that benefits from the "let's see what's good at the fish market today" style of shopping. In fact, each time I've made this dish I've used a slightly different selection of fish, and so far, it still tastes wonderful.

I will, however, give you a few guidelines for choosing your ingredients: First, I suggest haddock, but any firm, white fish will do. Avoid delicate fish like flounder and sole, as they will fall apart and their flavor will be lost. Second, scallops are good choice for a second fish; I prefer bay scallops, but if you can't get them, sea scallops chopped up a bit (roughly into quarters) will do fine. Third, this dish screams out for shrimp; listen to it. Fourth, squid is nice, if you like squid, and I do, but I usually can't get it (I live in the distant suburbs, far from a good fish market), so I rarely use it.

Many versions of this dish call for some or all of clams, mussels, and crab claws. I like all of them, and they all taste wonderful, but including them means having to pick up your food with your fingers. While there's nothing wrong with this (although the combination of tomato sauce and crab claws is very likely to be messy), it's probably not appropriate for a fancy dinner. Something else along these lines to consider: If you don't use clams or mussels or crab claws, you really ought to remove the entire shell from the shrimp, including the tail! (Did I mention that this dish really ought to have shrimp in it?) Otherwise, you're back to using your fingers (or needing a knife, which is both frustrating and stupid).

In all the years I've been cooking, I have yet to find a single dish that benefits from leaving part of the shell on the shrimp. Either leave the whole shell on or remove the whole thing!

Having said all that, here's the recipe for Italian-Style Fish Stew, or Cioppino, or Brodetto di Pesce, or whatever you want to call it. :-)

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