San Francisco Cioppino History and Recipe

Cioppino (pronounced chuh-PEE-no) is considered San Francisco’s signature dish, and no trip to this West Coast city would be complete without a bowlful of this delicious Cioppino seafood stew.  Because of the versatility of the ingredients, there are numerous recipes for it.  Cioppino can be prepared with a dozen different kinds of fish and shellfish.  It all depends on the day’s catch of your personal choice.

You will not believe how easy it is to make this Cioppino.  The key to this recipe is experimentation.  Be creative with this fish stew: Leave something out, or substitute something new.  Serve cioppino with a glass of your favorite wine and hot sourdough bread.


History of Cioppino:  This fish stew first became popular on the docks of San Francisco (now known as Fisherman’s wharf) in the 1930s.  Cioppino is thought to be the result of Italian immigrant fishermen adding something from the day’s catch to the communal stew kettle on the wharf.

The origin of the work “cioppino” is something of a mystery, and many historians believe that it is Italian-American for “chip in.”  It is also believed that the name comes from a Genoese fish stew called cioppin.


San Francisco Cioppino Seafood Stew


Please check out my San Francisco Cioppino Dinner Menu and Taste of California Dinner (Cioppino Dinner) using this delicious Cioppino Seafood Stew recipe.



San Francisco Cioppino Recipe:
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 15 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: San Francisco Cioppino History, San Francisco Cioppino Recipe
Servings: 8 to 10 servings
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch parsley leaves, minced
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans plum tomatoes, undrained and cut up*
  • 2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves, dried
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine (or red, whichever you prefer)
  • 12 small hard-shell clams in shell
  • 12 mussels in shell
  • 1 1/2 pounds extra-large shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined**
  • 1 1/2 pounds bay scallops
  • 1 1/2 pounds fish fillets (halibut, cod, or salmon), cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups Dungeness crab meat, flaked
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot or cast-iron Dutch oven over medium-low heat, melt butter; add onions, garlic, and parsley.  Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened.  Add tomatoes, clam juice, bay leaves, basil, thyme, oregano, and red or white wine; bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to low; cover, and simmer approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.  If sauce becomes too thick, thin with additional wine or water.

  2. NOTE: At this point, stock may be refrigerated, covered, up to 2 days before using.  To use stock that has been refrigerated, reheat to boiling and then reduce heat to low, until broth is simmering gently.

  3. Scrub clams and mussels with a small stiff brush under cold running water; remove beards from mussels.  Discard any open clams or mussels.  Cover with cold salted water; let stand 5 minutes and then pour off the salted water.  

  4. Gently stir in the clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, fish fillets, and crab meat to the prepared stock.  Cover and simmer 5 to 7 minutes until clams pop open and shrimp are opaque when cut.  NOTE: Do not overcook the seafood (the seafood continues to cook after it is removed from the pan).  Remove bay leaves; season with salt and pepper to taste.

  5. Remove from from heat and ladle broth and seafood into large soup bowls and serve.

  6. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Recipe Notes

* To easily cut up the tomatoes, use a sharp knife and cut through the tomatoes while still in the can.

** To add additional flavor, place the shells of the shrimp in a saucepan and cover with water.  Simmer over low heat approximately 7 to 10 minutes. remove from heat and strain the broth; discarding shells.  Add shrimp broth to soup broth.


Comments and Reviews

7 Responses to “San Francisco Cioppino History and Recipe”

  1. Phaedra

    Peeled shrimp? Flaked dungeness? Oh, NO! Everything is cooked and served in the shell. This is a messy meal. Live with it! To do otherwise is entirely too twee.

  2. Marian

    White wine…hot pan
    Garlic, 2/3 chopped
    Olive oil and star anis
    All fish including crab
    Salt and pepper
    10 mins covered
    Chopped parsley and olive oil
    Sour dough

  3. Julia

    The kind chef who taught me: fennel, garlic , onion,red pepper, FRESH TOMATOES,olive oil and butter half ea.Saute hot then add rich fish stock, easy to make with fish heads, a touch of wine, and tomatoe juice to make a s omewhat thin soup.Season, black pepper bay leaf, oregeno,crushed red pepper, or a fresh fresno.Reduce a bit, add hunks of freshwater fish, maybe some scallops and definitely mussels at the end.DON’T OVERCOOK THE FISH.In recent years, I add a pinch of saffron.Garnish with fresh parsley.Drizzle with a quality oil for richness, but not necessary.

  4. Raul Mendoza

    Have made Cioppino it following the recipe to a tee. Came out perfect and everyone loved it.

    • Nancy

      Glad you enjoyed the recipe and thank you for visiting What’s Cooking America!

  5. Jim Laturney

    We had this in San Francisco and it has become our Christmas eve dinner for 5 years now

  6. Dore Warshal

    Made this for my big New Year’s eve party (me and my husband) It was delicious. As good as anything I’ve had in SF restaurants. The only change I made was using olive oil instead of butter. I think it’s our new New Year’s tradition!


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