Cioppino Caliente

Super hot and so much fun! Served with a warmed loaf of French or Italian bread and a tossed green salad, this robust seafood stew is guaranteed to wow your guests. Cioppino is one of my longtime favorite entrées for entertaining. It’s best served at intimate, informal dinner parties—preferably with only four diners or even just two since it’s quite messy to eat.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup caribe chile

4 large red-ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1/2 cup Burgundy or other good-quality dry red wine or to taste

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 Tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves

2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil or 1 Tablespoons dried basil

1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

12 cherrystone or other small clams, scrubbed and soaked in cornmeal water for 30 minutes

1 pound medium shrimp with the tails left on, shelled and deveined

1/2 pound king or other crab legs

1 (1 1/2-pound) lobster

18 bay scallops (about 1/4 pound total)

1/2 pound firm-fleshed white fish such as cod, cut in 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup dry brandy (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet, paella pan, or wok using medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until garlic just starts to turn golden. Add caribe, tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, basil, oregano, and salt. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, or until flavors are well blended and sauce is somewhat reduced; add a little water if sauce starts getting too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Place clams, shrimp, crab, lobster, scallops, and white fish on top of sauce, arranging it in a pretty pattern. Cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until shrimp turn pink, lobster turns red, scallops and fish are opaque, and clams pop open. Discard the clams that do not open. Also discard the bay leaves. If desired, quickly heat brandy. Carefully flame and pour over cioppino just before serving.

To serve, divide seafood equally among large, shallow bowls (you’ll need to cut lobster apart). Be sure to provide bibs and plenty of napkins.

Makes 4 servings.

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