Cioppino (Cho-Pee-No) is a fish stew that was made famous in San Fransisco by a Italian immigrants back in the 1930s. It was made with the catch of the day and served on Fisherman’s Wharf.
The name Cioppino is derived from Ciuppin, a classic Italian soup. But some claim the name is also short for “chip in.” Legend has it that when a fisherman would come back to the docks emptyhanded, he would walk around with a pot asking others to chip in whatever fish and shellfish they could spare. Anyone who contributed could expect the same charity in the future. The stew was always a different mix of seafood since they made use of what they had on hand.
In the Midwest, our local catch consists of walleye, northern pike, birds or venison. I wanted to rely on these wild ingredients, which is why I included hot Italian venison sausage in my version of Cioppino.
This stew uses walleye fillets and cheeks—the small pockets of meat found below the eye. I like to think of them as little scallops, and a strong argument could be made that they are the best part of the walleye.
- 1 1/2 lbs. of walleye/pike fillets & cheeks
- 1/2 lb. hot Italian venison sausage (ground, or 3 links sliced)
- 1 small fennel bulb, fronds reserved
- 3 shallots, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 cups dry white wine (Savignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio)
- 2 (14 oz.) cans of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
- 1 (8 oz) jar of clam juice
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (1 tsp. for spicy)
- 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
- Olive oil for cooking
- Fresh basil for serving
Also works with
- Prep the fennel by slicing the root end and stems off. Remove the outer layer if wilted or bruised. Cut in half lengthwise, and then again through the center so you end up with quarters. Slice it crosswise into thin strips. Reserve the fennel fronds for garnish.
- In a large stockpot, add a splash of olive oil and brown the venison sausage over high heat. Remove and set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium, then add another splash of oil and sauté the sliced shallots. Allow them to cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the fennel slices and cook for an additional few minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, or about one minute.
- Deglaze the pot with the white wine, scraping up any bits from the bottom. Bring the wine to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes to let the alcohol burn off. Pour the canned tomatoes and clam juice into the pot. Sprinkle in the crushed red pepper, oregano and return the sausage. Stir the stew well and then taste, adding salt or pepper if needed.
- When the stew comes back to a simmer, use tongs to gently drop the fish fillets into the pot, pushing them down so that they submerge in the liquids. Avoid stirring so that you don’t break the fillets up too much. Let the fish gently poach in the stew until the fillets begin to flake apart (about 6-8 minutes).
- Serve with reserved fennel fronds and basil.