Considered by many to be the signature dish of San Francisco, Cioppino is a wonderful seafood stew that is perfect for entertaining and holidays. Serve this with crusty sourdough bread to sop up all the delicious broth for a truly Californian dining experience!

For more comforting cold-weather soups, be sure to check out our Maryland Crab Soup, Better-Than-Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup, and Tortellini Soup with Italian Sausage.

parsley next to a wooden cutting board with a large blue pot full of seafood stew resting on top

Classic Cioppino Seafood Stew

One of the highlights of a trip to San Francisco for lots of people is to enjoy the fresh seafood at one of the many great restaurants in the city.

We don't live right in San Francisco itself, but we aren't too far away in the East Bay and I try to get into the city often for date night with my husband or to take our girls to meet up with daddy for lunch sometimes when they aren't in school.

So imagine my chagrin when I was researching iconic foods that came out of California for the American Eats series I have been doing and realized that despite all the fantastic restaurants I've eaten at in the city, I had never tried cioppino. I decided to remedy that double quick.

Turns out cioppino is easy to make and so delicious. It can be made with almost any combination of seafood, but whole Dungeness crabs in the shell, clams, shrimp, bay scallops, and mussels are classic options. It's a great special occasion recipe for the holidays or dinner parties.

An image of a bowl of delicious San Francisco Cioppino made with fresh clams, mussels, shrimp, codfish, bay scallops, and Dungeness crab in a light tomato broth.

What is Cioppino?

Almost every seafood restaurant of note in San Francisco has cioppino on its menu. It was created here in the late 1800's by Italian immigrants from the Genoa region of Italy, who lived and worked as fishermen in the North Beach area of the City by the Bay.

The story goes that when fishermen would return from an unsuccessful day of fishing out on the water, they would go around the docks and other fishermen would chip in a little something to the pot - a crab or some mussels or a fish - with the understanding that they too would have days in the future when they would come home empty handed as well and need to rely on their fellow fishermen.

A large pot of classic, authentic cioppino seafood stew with a loaf of sliced sourdough bread next to it.

Some say that the name "cioppino" actually comes from the idea of "chipping in", although the more likely answer is that it is derived from the name of a Genoese fish stew called cioppin, which is very similar to the cioppino that is so popular in San Francisco today.

Regardless, cioppino is traditionally made with the freshest seafood possible in a thin broth made from tomatoes, herbs, and white wine. The catch of the day from the San Francisco bay is usually a combination of Dungeness crab,  clams, bay scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, and fish.

Bowls of cioppino are served with plenty of fresh San Francisco sourdough bread that is dipped into the sauce to sop up the rich, flavorful broth.

A bowl of fresh seafood stew from San Francisco known as cioppino made with the catch of the day.

How do you make Cioppino?

The first step is preparing the broth, which is going to simmer for almost an hour to let the flavors really develop before adding the seafood. It's made by sauteing onions, fennel and garlic in some butter in a heavy duty pot like a dutch oven.

Then add a bunch of herbs and some white wine and cook it down until the wine has reduced by half before adding the crushed and diced tomatoes and seafood stock.

An image of a pot of sauteed onions, fennel, and garlic with white wine and crushed tomatoes for making cioppino.

Once the sauce has simmered for long enough to really draw out the flavors of the herbs, then it is time to add the whatever seafood you have chosen for your cioppino.

Feel free to use whatever seafood is freshest when you are making your cioppino. Be sure to soak the clams and mussels in fresh water and scrub and rinse them well before cooking.

Sometimes mussels have a fuzzy membrane known as a "beard" that need to be pulled off if they don't already come that way from the market.

When you are almost ready to serve, add the clams and let them cook for 5 minutes until they just start to open, then add the mussels, followed by the crab, shrimp, bay scallops and pieces of fish. It will only take about 5 minutes more for the rest of the seafood to cook.

Then sprinkle the cioppino with fresh chopped parsley and serve.

An image of a large pot of cioppino seafood stew made with fresh seafood like Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, scallops, and shrimp.

Tips for San Francisco Cioppino

  • Buy the freshest seafood available to you for making San Francisco cioppino. Whole Foods is one of my go-to sources for good seafood, but Asian markets can also be a good, economical source for fresh seafood as well. Depending on where you live, there might also be a good fish market or fishmonger at your local farmer's market that you could go to for the freshest seafood possible.
  • Fair warning that authentic cioppino is typically served with the crab and other shellfish still in their shells, which means you're in for some hands-on, messy eating. But I think that's part of the fun for an informal gathering with friends who appreciate good seafood. Just be sure to have lots of napkins on hand!
  • If you can't find fish or seafood stock, you could use chicken stock with a small can of clam juice instead.
  • Replace the white wine with more stock, if you aren't comfortable cooking with wine.
Considered by many to be the signature dish of San Francisco, Cioppino is a wonderful seafood stew that is perfect for entertaining and holidays.  Serve this with crusty sourdough bread to sop up all the delicious broth for a truly Californian dining experience!
An image of a large dutch oven pot of San Francisco cioppino seafood stew made with the freshest seafood available and served with plenty of sliced sourdough bread.

And if you are planning a trip to San Francisco in the future, be sure to check out this 3-Day San Francisco itinerary for all the best places to see!

More Soup Recipes for When the Weather Turns Cold

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San Francisco Cioppino

4.85 from 66 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
Course Soup
Cuisine American
Servings 6 adults
Considered the signature dish of San Francisco, Cioppino is a wonderful seafood stew that is perfect for entertaining and holidays.  Serve this with crusty sourdough bread to sop up all the delicious broth for a truly Californian dining experience!

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • ½ bunch fresh parsley chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 ½ cups white wine optional - can replace with additional fish or chicken stock
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 5 cups fish or seafood stock*
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound small clams
  • 1 pound mussels scrubbed and debearded
  • 2 pounds crab I used 1 whole cooked Dungeness crab, with its legs removed from its body
  • 1 pound uncooked large shrimp peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound bay scallops
  • ½ pound cod fillet cut into large chunks (or other firm-fleshed fish like halibut or salmon)
  • Fresh basil and parsley chopped, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Melt the butter over medium heat in a large stock pot, then add the onion, fennel, garlic, parsley, sauteing until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, basil, salt, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes and saute 2 minutes longer.
  • Add the white wine, crushed and diced tomatoes, fish stock, and bay leaves, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Simmer for 30 minutes so the flavors can blend.  While the meat simmers, prepare the crab by removing the crab legs from the body (if not already done for you) and using a nutcracker to crack the shells (leave the meat in the shell) so that the meat can be easily removed once the cioppino is served.
  • Increase the heat to medium and add the clams and mussels to the broth and cook for 5 minutes until they start to open.  Then add the crab legs and cook for another minute, followed by the shrimp and scallops.  Finally, lay the chunks of cod on top of the broth and cover and cook for 3-5 minutes until the mussels and clams are open, the shrimp curl and the scallops are just firm.
  • Ladle the cioppino into large bowls garnish with chopped fresh parsley and basil.  Serve with warm, crusty sourdough bread!  Have plenty of napkins, extra bowls for shells, and nutcrackers and tiny forks on hand for the crab.  

Notes

* You can replace all or part of the fish or seafood stock with the same amount of chicken stock along with a small bottle of clam juice instead.  
** If dungeness crab is not available, you could use snow crab, blue claw, stone crab claws, or even Alaskan King crab.  Also, you could just use crab meat instead of the legs and body, which would certainly make this cioppino easier to eat, although it is such a fun presentation to have the crab legs.
Adapted from AllRecipes.

Nutrition

Calories: 519kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Protein: 52g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 227mg | Sodium: 2371mg | Potassium: 1675mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 1090IU | Vitamin C: 31mg | Calcium: 275mg | Iron: 7mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

  1. 5 stars
    This is the best cioppino recipe ever!!!! This is most like what you would get served at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, because that is where I had my first cioppino bowl. Every other recipe I have tried has fallen way short of my memory. Try this and you will not be disappointed. Amy has many great recipes that just exhude great taste.

  2. How big of a Dutch oven will I need to make this? I have a 7.25qt (I believe) Le Creuset Dutch oven...will that fit all of this amazing seafood?

  3. ,This recipe took me back to San Francisco 
    I’ve eaten cioppino.  Wrong spelling : for years. This took me back to when San Francisco. Was a glamorous city. Thank you!

  4. The broth was SOOO good! We live in the SF bay area and this is as good or better as anything we've tasted at the wharf. Definitely will be making this again!

  5. I made this last night, it was AMAZING!!!! Better than any restaurant cioppino I have had.
    Are use the whole bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, I didn’t have any dried basil so I added Italian seasoning, I couldn’t find fish stock so I use clam juice. It was off the charts amazing.
    I served it with garlic bread, I used to carry gold butter room temperature, fresh garlic, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, grated Parmesan, and paprika .
    😋😋😋😋

    1. Keep any leftovers in the fridge and reheat on the stove. If you want to make this in advance, I would recommend making the broth, then reheating it before adding the seafood.

  6. I made this recipe and it was wonderful! I doubled the sauce to have more and it got rave reviews from my Christmas Eve guests. I will use this recipe again. Goes well with an Italian Christmas Eve meal.

  7. This was fabulous.  Felt like it compared to any restaurant.  Did’’t use crab
    Legs but with all the other fish/seafood didn’t miss it during COVID days.  Highly recommend.  

  8. Hi, for my birthday this year I decided to make it a dine in dinner due to the current situation of COVID 19. I chose to make this recipe because I am a seafood fan, and was looking for a restaurant style dish with lots of flavor. It seemed like a lot of food at first for little old me, but then again, tomorrow’s another day and I don’t plan on stopping eating any time soon. So thanks for this lovely recipe. 

  9. Absolutely delicious outcome. We followed the recipe to a tee and we were all delighted with the results. Everyone was soaking up the remaking liquid in the bowl with sourdough bread. 

  10. Absolutely beautiful. Crab isn’t readily available in the uk, but added everything else! I also added a small amount of tagliatelle to the bottom of our bowls. Absolute winner here. Beautiful recipe. Thankyou x

  11. Madd this recipe for family. I was told this sauce was better then a sauce handed down for four generations. I bought a sea food " bundle " for cipino and it was wonderful. Lots of french bread and some pasta. Served with some red wine. It was a hit! Highly recommend this recipe

  12. Made this recipe for family. I was told this sauce was better then a sauce handed down for four generations. I bought a sea food " bundle " for cipino and it was wonderful. Lots of french bread and some pasta. Served with some red wine. It was a hit! Highly recommend this recipe

  13. I think one correction needs to be made to Step 1.  It references adding the garlic at 2 different times ... first to be sauteed with the onions, fennel, etc. for 10 minutes ... and then again to be added to the pan along with the herbs for a couple of minutes after the 10 minute onion/fennel sauté is done. 

    Knowing how easy it is to burn garlic, I can't imagine you would want to sauté it for 10 minutes with the onions/fennel ... so I am going to assume that it should only be added at the end for a couple of minutes with the herbs (like it is usually done in most recipes).

  14. My husband and I tried this soup last night and were so excited after tasting it!  It is now our favorite soup to make in our home.  I have been sharing it with family and friends!

  15. Use ouzo ir other Mediterranean liquor instead of wine it really adds to the flavor. Italians like aniseed flavor

  16. I’m making this for Christmas dinner in a couple days and can not wait! I do have a question I’m hoping someone can answer. I’m a bit confused on what to do with the crab body. Does that go into the cioppino as well or do just the legs go in? If the body does go in, I’d assume there’s meat in there too?

    Thank you!

    1. You can add the whole crab body or just the legs. There is meat in both although it can be a little harder to access the meat in the body of the crab so often people will cut them in half before adding to the broth.

      1. 5 stars
        Thank you so much for the reply!! I made the broth last night (to get that part out of the way) and it is delicious!!!! Can’t wait to serve this for Christmas dinner!!

  17. 5 stars
    This us by far the best cioppino recipe I've ever made. It's always my go to when I get fennel in my CSA box (I can't stand fennel in anything other than cioppino). Do you think I could potentially make the base soup and freeze it for future use? And then thaw and add the seafood later?

  18. This is perfect.Havnt made this yet,but reading the ingredients it sounds spot on.What I like to do when I make a base is to use dried herbs,then let it sit for a day or two in the fridge.When I reheat it,I zap it with a bunch of fresh herbs 15 min or so before the seafood is added.Wonderful burst of fresh flavor with all the melded flavors from sitting for a day or two.