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Discerning Diner
Cioppino: original San Francisco treat
By Elan Head

March 18, 2006

Last year, my husband received a $300 travel voucher when he was bumped from an overbooked flight.

Three hundred and sixty-three days had gone by, and he still hadn’t gotten around to using it.

Since it expired on the 365th (and since his job, meantime, had sent him out of the country), I decided to use the voucher to take myself to San Francisco for lunch.

What a great way to spend a Sunday. A friend picked me up at the airport and we went straight to one of my favorite Chinese restaurants, Ton Kiang, for dim sum.

Then, because it would have been a shame to have missed the opportunity, we went to the Ferry Building Marketplace, where I loaded up on groceries.

I know, groceries. It was pretty dorky, but I should say in my defense that these were very good groceries: excellent cheese, exotic fresh mushrooms, Recchiuti chocolates, pasta, wine and the kicker, crab.

No, I didn’t carry a live Dungeness crab back on the airplane with me (though I contemplated it).

Instead, my friend tipped me off that the San Francisco Fish Company will quarter and clean your crab for you — if you ask.

I did. Problem solved: freshly cooked crab at home without having to worry about keeping the poor guy, er, respirating.

The classic San Francisco crab dish is cioppino, a brothy, tomato-based seafood stew that closely resembles Mediterranean bouillabaisse.

The San Francisco Seafood Company sells its own frozen cioppino base, and I used a container of this both as an icepack and in the cioppino I made back home.

It was pretty good, and certainly convenient. But I still think cioppino is better made from scratch.

If you’d like to give it a whirl, you can find live crabs at the Asian market Lee Lee, on the northeast corner of Warner and Dobson roads in Chandler. Choose big, healthy, lively ones; two crabs will make cioppino for four.

I’m not sure if the market will clean and quarter your crabs for you, but it’s pretty easy to cook live crabs at home: simply submerge in plenty of boiling water for about seven minutes per pound.

To check for doneness, twist a leg from its body; the flesh should be white and firm. Rinse the crabs under cold running water and, for the purpose of this recipe, remove and retain the legs (cleaning the body is a bit more involved).

Of course, you can also buy precooked crab legs from places like Whole Foods. In any event, whether your legs are raw or cooked, divide them into segments that will be easy to crack at the table.

For the cioppino, warm 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add and sauté one cup each of finely chopped onion, celery and bell pepper. A few minutes later, throw in four finely minced garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. (You can also add 1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms, if you’d like.)

When the vegetables are soft, add 4 cups of fish stock or water (or three cups of water and one cup of clam juice). Stir in two 14-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, one cup of red wine and one teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Just before you’re ready to serve, stir in one and a half pounds of your choice of seafood: peeled raw shrimp, cubed white fish fillets, clams, mussels, scallops, squid or a mixture of any of the above.

If you bought your crab cleaned and quartered, stir in the uncooked leg segments here, too. If your crab is already cooked, wait until the rest of the seafood is almost done to add it to the pot; it should just have time to heat through.

Serve the cioppino immediately with sourdough bread, and be prepared to get a little messy eating it.

And should you crave cioppino in situ? Well, San Francisco’s just a short flight away.






































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