Italian Seafood Stew (Cioppino, Cacciucco)

Brining Mussels

Brining Mussels

By Cat, Nov 2007 (Photo, right, by Cat)

I was first introduced to seafood stew (other than oyster stew) in the early 1970s, at Jakes Restaurant in Portland, where they are famous for their New Orleans style Bouillabaisse. The closest recipe I could find was for Cioppino, similar to bouillabaisse but with a tomato base.

I’ve since collected several related recipes including this one for Cacciucco in The Italian Cuisine I Love, by Jules J. Bond (1).

See also:  1. Fish and Seafood Menu2Mediterranean Menu; 3. Live Clams & Mussels: Storage, Brining and Steaming; 4. Using Crustaceans (crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp); 5. Homemade tomato paste; 6. Easy Seafood Stew; 7. Bouillabaisse (Provençal or Creole Fisherman’s Stew)

Italian Seafood Stew (Cioppino, Cacciucco)

This recipe is adapted from one in The Italian Cuisine I Love, by Jules J. Bond (1), with ideas from a Tuscan Foodie article, “Cioppino vs Cacciucco” (2). That article maintains that Cioppino is an American invention, perhaps inspired by Italian memories of seafood stew in their home country, such as Cacciucco. But whatever the truth of the matter, the combination of broth (with or without tomatoes), vegetables, fish and shellfish is divine.

The seafood in the recipe are only suggestions; use whatever you can get fresh at your local market. What is more important than which fish/seafood you use, is the steps you follow to enhance the combination of flavors, as is pointed out in the Tuscan Foodie article (2).

For use in this recipe, to feed 4 – 6 people, it takes about:

  • 1 – 1½ pounds of baby clams or mussels in the shell, or 1 cup shucked;
  • 8 – 12 large shrimp;
  • 10 – 14 small bay scallops, or 6 – 8 large scallops;
  • 1 – 1½ pounds white fish such as cod, haddock or halibut

The original recipe serves 6.

Ingredients & Equipment

  • Seafood examples:
  • 1 cup shucked baby clams and/or mussels (fresh or canned)
  • 1 lb. fresh cod filet, cut in chunks
  • ½ lb haddock or halibut, cut in pieces
  • ½ lb shrimp, shelled, deveined and cut in bite-size pieces
  • Stew:
  • 2 Tbsp homemade tomato paste
  • 1 – 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (optional, depending on how tomato-y you want the broth)
  • ½ tsp grated zest of fresh lemon
  • 6 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (leaves and stems)
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine (my go-to wine is dry vermouth)
  • 1 cup clam juice
  • 2 cups water (or less if using diced tomatoes and their juices)
  • ⅛ tsp saffron (optional but recommended)
  • unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
  • Equipment
  • Large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven; or large heavy-bottomed saucier; your choice should be large enough to contain all the fish and broth


You may not use all the types of seafood discussed in the Prep section. Additionally, if you want to use lobster, see Fine Cooking (4) for details on “Getting to the meat of a lobster;” if you want to use crab, see Great British Chefs (5) on removing the meat from a crab, including the body, claws and legs.Then cut the meat of lobster and/or crab into bite-size pieces.

  1. Prep:
  2. Make tomato paste if you don’t have any on-hand.
  3. Clams/Mussels: (See Live Clams & Mussels: Storage, Brining and Steaming for more detail)Check any shucked clams/mussels for freshness.
  4. If using fresh clams/mussels in the shell, first test each opened shell for life; brine the good ones, as it helps to remove grit and sand from the shell, and only takes a few minutes. If you want to shuck them, see Live Clams & Mussels: Storage, Brining and Steaming for details. Or cook them in the shell as in the ‘stew’ instructions, below.
  5. In a pinch, you can use shucked, canned baby clams or mussels.
  6. NOTE: if using large clams, its best to cook them separately ahead of time, to avoid overcooking the other seafood in the dish.
  7. Crustaceans:  See Using Crustaceans (crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp);
  8. Cod or other white fish: Rinse; cut into chunks or pieces.
  9. Lemon and veggies: Grate zest of lemon; set aside.
  10. Chop sprigs of parsley; chop onion; mince garlic and set these aside together.
  11. Dice fresh tomatoes, if using.
  12. Stew:
  13. Heat olive oil in chosen, large skillet, pot, Dutch oven, or saucier.
  14. Add the chopped parsley, onion, garlic, pepper and sauté  5-10 minutes, until the onions are soft. Stir occasionally.
  15. Add wine, let the alcohol evaporate for 2-3 minutes. Stir.
  16. Add the tomato paste, clam juice and water. Also add crushed tomatoes, if using. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover pot and simmer about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add a pinch of salt (go light, if using clams/mussels in the shell, as they are also salty, and stir to dissolve.
  17. Add white fish, cooked clams/mussels (if using; live clams/mussels in shell will be added later), and shrimp (if using); also add saffron (if using).
  18. Bring pot back to boil, then return to simmer for 5 – 10 minutes (depending on how large the pieces of white fish and shrimp are).
  19. Add brined and rinsed clams and mussels in shell (if using).Simmer for 5 minutes, or until all the mussels and clams are all open and white fish is done.
  20. Let it rest 1 minute. Adjust seasoning for salt and pepper.
  21. Serve in warmed shallow bowls. Accompany with a good rustic whole grain bread or baguette.


  1. The Italian Cuisine I Love, by Jules J. Bond, copyright 1977 and published by Leon Ariel, New York.
  2. Tuscan Foodie article, “Cioppino vs Cacciucco,” and included recipe for “Cioppucco” (a combination of Cioppino and Cacciucco);
  3. Fine Cooking on shelling and deveining shrimp (
  4. Fine Cooking on Getting to the meat of a lobster:
  5. Great British Chefs, on How to remove meat from a crab:

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