Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cooking Saturday: Cioppino

Holy crap, this was the most stressful thing I have ever cooked. Was it worth it? Yes. I've never worked with live clams and mussels before so I went ahead and bought all the seafood the day before - apparently a no-no for live stuff. Supposed to buy it the day of (and to be honest, probably RIGHT before you're planning on throwing it all in the pot). After picking up all the ingredients I came to conclusion that, if this doesn't turn out, this will be my most expensive food flop yet.

I sewed this apron in grade 6 home ec class :D Yeah, I still use it

When I got home from the grocery store with all my (pricey) seafood, I put the dead fresh stuff in the fridge right away (shrimp, cod, scallops), left the frozen calamari out to defrost, and quickly looked up how I'm supposed to keep the live stuff from dying on me.

Here's the easy seafood:

Clams apparently will be fine in some water in the fridge. Great, no biggie. Mussels, however, are fussy a-holes! I went through them picking out the dead opened ones. That accounted for nearly 1/4 of the 2 lb bag. Well, whatever, I only needed 18 of them for the recipe anyways. Since at the store, they were kept in water, I figure I'll put them in some water and on ice so they're nice and cool. Once I was finished with that, I read online what you're NOT supposed to put them in water because they'll die. Ummmm alright that doesn't make sense, but sure. Drained the water. Then I read that they'll be okay on ice in the fridge and covered with a wet towel. I figured, sure I'll put them on some ice, but for some reason skipped the wet towel part. Checked on them in the fridge 15 minutes later - crap, more died. Picked those out, and covered them with a wet towel. Phew. Done.

The next morning, Nick and I went to check out this newly discovered bakery at Crowfoot, Cobbs Bread. Since we rarely go to that plaza, we also discovered that there's a fresh seafood store over there, along with our favorite cheese store, Spring Bank Cheese Co.! What a nice surprise. After we picked up a few things at the bakery, I thought, might as well go to this seafood place, get some more mussels since I killed practically half of the ones last night. A nice man (who looked like he could he a fisherman) greeted us. It's not a very big place, but they have big selection of fresh/frozen/cooked fish, shellfish, caviar, etc. What a nice surprise! I bought another 2 pounds of mussels and asked the man how to keep them alive - he said, cover with a damp towel but cook the same day! So turns out I didn't even need ice. Eggh. I'm starting to feel stressed out just writing about this ordeal.

So around 4 that day I decided to start cooking the cioppino. I figured, pfft what's there to do? Chop some onions, open some cans, chop some seafood, throw it all in - no big deal. Once I reviewed the recipe, I was a little worried about the timing. Thanks to my great new reference books ( :D ), I found out that you're supposed to "debeard" the mussels as close as possible to cooking because debearding kills them. The seafood was the last thing to add, and the broth beforehand didn't require long simmering. I didn't think I'd get it all done in time, and either the mussels all die, or the broth will overcook (or ...something? Can broth even overcook?) I don't know, I had my concerns about time. Luckily, I read the user reviews and one helpfully suggested that the broth should simmer for about an hour to develop flavor - great tip! Thank you, helpful user. Always read recipe reviews! So I got started.

You may notice the canned crab in that first photo - I ended up not using it. I did give some to my cat though. He seemed interested!

He loved it. Below are some more cooking liquids - and the other bottle, well that's for my stress :D Hey, it was a Saturday! That's a German Riesling: 2009 Loosen Bros Doctor L, my favorite wine.

12-14 servings - the recipe is modified from the original

3/4 cup butter
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
1 (~8 ounce) bottle clam juice
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp - peeled and deveined
1 1/2 pounds bay scallops (or regular big ones cut into 4-6 pieces each)
18 small clams
18 mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 1/2 pounds cod fillets, cubed

1. Over medium-low heat melt butter in a large stockpot, add onions, garlic and parsley (Nick was bringing the parsley so I added it later). Cook slowly, stirring occasionally until onions are soft.

2. Add tomatoes to the pot (break them into chunks as you add them). Add chicken broth, bay leaves, basil, thyme, oregano, clam juice and wine. Mix well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Okay these are easy enough - chop chop chop.

This was a pain in the butt. I used a towel since I don't have one of those special gloves so you don't stab yourself.

A little more work for the shrimp - and, TADA!

3. Stir in the shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels. (For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to open the clam shells and take them out instead of leaving them in the shells... This added a LOT of work - leave the clams!! And then you're supposed to cook until they open.) Stir in fish, if desired. Bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer 5 to 7 minutes until mussels open. Discard any mussels that didn't open.

4. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with warm, crusty bread!

I definitely underestimated the preparation time of the seafood, especially for the opening clams and debearding what seemed like a bagillion mussels. Instead of only using 18, I must have had like... probably 3 times that. I had to bake a bunch because they wouldn't fit in the biggest pot I had, and I already debearded all of them.

All of this made an enormous pot filled with seafood. I cooked some basmati rice to add some more texture to the soup and I'm currently taking it for lunch every day. I did manage to freeze some, but I figure might as well eat as much of it as I can while it's still fresh.

The Verdict: Worth the effort. I literally collapsed after we ate and almost took a nap. Nick and I both enjoyed the dinner. Yay! At least I didn't botch it.

If you're ready for a challenge, and have fresh seafood on hand - try it! Cooking-wise, it's relatively easy. Preparation-wise it's a little trickier, but manageable. And I'm done this post.

Take care,

Original Recipe: Allrecipes - Cioppino

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Beautiful Mess said...

First of all, thank you SO much for your comment on my blog! I really appreciate your input. I know it's a "thing" we all go through as teenagers, but it really isn't as much fun being on THIS end, rather than the other.

Second of all, OMG will you marry me?! That soup looks delicious ;) Love your pictures and everything. Awesome blog! Thanks for finding me so I could find you.

like.thunder said...

Aww thank you! That's so nice to hear. I was trying to follow your blog but it wouldn't let me for some reason :|. I'll follow you tomorrow :)