Cioppino is a feel good meal that is all about the seafood. Image source: Flickr CC user Kelly Sue DeConnick
For parents like me, the fall season means making sure kids do their homework, eat a good meal and get to bed on time. It also means a return to fundraising season. Schools need to ask the community for help to extend the funds they get. For me, donating and volunteering are part of being a parent. But they can get a little redundant. Bingo night again? Another bake sale?
I have a suggestion for a different kind of fundraiser: a cioppino feast. Seafood. Big surprise coming from me, right? But I’m here to tell you it works. Offering delicious bowls of classic San Francisco-style cioppino to eat is a great alternative to hosting a car wash, especially as the weather cools down.
Feel Good Stew
I may be out on a limb, but I think there’s some psychology at play here too. In California, cioppino holds a sweet spot in many people’s minds, but no matter where you live, it’s a special dish usually enjoyed on special occasions in memorable places like San Francisco or that great seafood restaurant you went to years ago. It’s a festive, fun loving dish that puts people in a generous mood, which makes it perfect for a school fundraiser.
Another reason to go with a cioppino feast is that it’s a one-pot meal. Cooking and serving in the same pot make preparation and serving easier. I simply simmer the seafood in broth-thinned sauce and then keep the stew on warm to serve.
There are many recipes for cioppino but here’s a basic one that serves 6-8.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and saute the garlic, onion, and fennel until translucent. Stir in the tomato paste, the canned tomatoes, and the white wine and fish stock. Simmer until flavors blend, about 20 minutes.
Add the seafood, starting with clams, mussels and crab. Then add the shrimp and fish. Simmer gently until the clams and mussels open and the fish and shrimp are just done. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if you like. Dried herbs like thyme, oregano, and basil can also be added to taste.
Dinner Is in the Bag
Part of the reason many people associate cioppino with going out to dinner or special occasions is just that: it’s special. The quality of cioppino depends heavily on the freshness of the seafood you use. And since it’s made with several kinds of seafood--mussels, clams, crab, shrimp, and fish--it’s not a mid-week meal you whip on a whim. It takes time and preparation to shop for and and find the freshest examples of each of these types of seafood. That means it’s usually easier to let someone else do the cooking.
But ordering a kit online, with all the ingredients in one package, makes what can be a daunting undertaking far more manageable, especially for feeding a large crowd like what you’ll get at your fundraiser. It’s possible to find kits that come with everything you need to make a great pot of cioppino, like large tiger shrimp, Pacific cod, Manila clams, PEI mussels, Dungeness crab, and bay shrimp. Not only do kits bring all the different types of seafood you need for cioppino together, but they bring it to you cleaned and in manageable pieces. Some kits also provide the fish stock you’ll need as well. With all these ingredients in hand, all you need to do is make a garlicky marinara base and add some spices, and your cioppino has practically made itself.
Tips for Success
Even if you use a kit, cooking for a fundraiser still means dealing with a lot of food and a lot of people, so here are some tips to make things easier.
Cioppino is all about the seafood. In fact, that’s how it originated--with fishermen using the freshest, tastiest-looking seafood from the day’s catch to make a filling meal. So for an authentic, memorable cioppino, you need incredibly fresh fish and shellfish. Order from Daily Fresh Fish before 2 pm and you’ll have your kit of seafood the next day. We guarantee it will make preparing your cioppino easy, but it will also be several days fresher than what you’ll find at the grocery store since it goes from us to you with no stop in between.