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Texas Cioppino


Chef Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro Restaurant in the Houston Four Seasons hotel and I collaborated on a Texas cioppino last Friday. Maurizio invited me to join him in the kitchen as part of the Guest Chef series there. I know, I know, I am not really a chef. But I do work in a lot of kitchens–mainly developing Tex-Mex recipes.

My guest chef gig in an Italian restaurant started over a plate of spaghetti at the Sacred Heart Society spaghetti lunch, Maurizio and I were debating the provenance of the fish stew called cioppino. I thought it was invented by Italian-American fishermen in San Francisco. But chef Maurizio, who is Italian, insisted it originated in Liguria.

I also told Maurizio that I was working on a Texas version of cioppino for the Italian-Texan chapter of my upcoming book “Texas Eats” (Ten Speed Press, March 2012). Not that it’s any big innovation–a Gulf version of cioppino is already served at Tony Mandola’s on Waugh St. in Houston. My partner at El Real, Bryan Caswell, had a similiar Texas-Tuscan seafood stew on the menu at Stella Sola for awhile too. But for my Texas cioppino, I wanted to leave out non-Gulf ingredients like scallops. I also wanted to include lots of blue crab.

My recipe was inspired by the crab cioppino that was once served at the Gold Spike on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. (The restaurant closed in 2005.)That dungeness crab soup was served family style in a huge bowl in the middle of the table. You cracked crab and dunked sourdough in the red gravy to your heart’s content. Maurizio wanted to tinker with my recipe and serve Texas cioppino at Quattro one night. And so we set it up.

Chef Maurizio

While I think of cioppino as a soup, Maurizio put the vegetables from the fish stock through a china cap and added the paste back to the broth to turn it into a thick stew. He also added octopus to the ingredient list, which was a great addition. He put a serving of stew in an oversize china soup bowl and garnished it with a crab claw and two pieces of toasted Italian bread. It was a lot prettier than my version of cioppino. My only quibble was his insistence of using scorpionfish instead of red snapper–you can take the European out of Europe…

For the antipasti on our collaboration menu, we served sausage and peppers to honor the Sacred Heart Society for bringing us together over spaghetti. We tried to buy 10 pounds of Tony Leago’s fabulous Italian sausage, but Tony wouldn’t take our money. Tony’s sausage is served every week at the Thursday spaghetti lunch–go by and say hello. (Call him at 713 591 8532 if you want to order sausage.)

All in all, we had a lot of fun. Quite a few people showed up for dinner. We plan on doing it again when the book comes out in March. Meanwhile, here’s my Texas Cioppino recipe:

Texas Cioppino (from Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook)

Cioppino is an Italian-American seafood stew that originated in San Franciso. Some say it as originally made aboard fishing boats. This Gulf version using brown shrimp, redfish and blue crab make an excellent Texas-Italian cioppino.

Serves 8

4 pounds uncooked heads-on shrimp
One 4 pound whole redfish
8 live crabs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup chopped green onions
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
Small can tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups white wine
3 bay leaves

Shell the shrimp and filet the fish. Make a stock with the fish bones and head and the shrimp shells and heads. When the stock boils, add the crabs and cook until done, about ten minutes. Remove the crabs and allow to cool. Reserve the crab bodies and claws and return the rest of the crab including the innards to the stockpot. Simmer the stock for a total of 30 minutes adding water as needed, then turn off the heat. You should have 8 cups of stock.
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the green onion and garlic and jalapeño, and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes and liquid, wine and bay leaf. Strain the stock and pour the strained liquid into the soup pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.
Cut the fish into 2 inch chunks. Add the shrimp and fish to the soup. Simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through. Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and some pepper sauce if desired.
Ladle the soup into 8 bowls, hang a crab body on the rim of each bowl with the body in the soup and a claw on the outside. Serve with crusty bread and nutcrackers for the crab claws.

2 comments to Texas Cioppino

  • Jim Wygant

    The text says “red snapper” but the recipe says “redfish”. Those two have very different texture; which is preferable?

  • robbwalsh

    Red snapper can’t be beat–but you need the whole fish–bones and all. It would have made sense in the elegant dish we were preparing at Quattro.

    Redfish is what I called for in the cookbook, more of a simple homemade dish.

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