Though I hate making a big deal of my birthday, I love contributing to the fun of others who are up for celebrating. And nothing makes a birthday more special than a special meal.
For the recent birthday I was celebrating with a good friend, something special was in order. She was turning her “scary age.” This particular age is different for everyone. For me it was 30, especially since I never plan on admitting to turning 40. For her, it was 35. To each her own. But because we wanted to make the event special, we decided to try a dish I had never made before.
Celebrating with a new dish is fun. The challenge of the unknown and creating a task that, if successful, will be a knockout dinner makes for a great cooking experience.
Because of where we live, I eat seafood less frequently than I do other proteins. Good seafood is expensive to get here, and since it is already traveling here, you have to be careful to get the freshest possible options and cook them right away. That is why, when I cook with seafood, I feel like I am preparing an unusual meal. I also want to be careful not to mess the dish up as that would be an expensive mistake.
For this dinner we tossed around lots of ideas – lobster, crab, fish. Then, we decided, why not find a dish that combines them all? There is a seafood dish I have had in some restaurants and when done right, just love. Cioppino is an Italian influenced American dish that originated out of San Francisco. It combines all sorts of seafood in a flavorful tomato based broth with hints of anise and white wine. I love it.
Typically you serve cioppino with crusty bread to soak up the sauce and fill it with various sorts of seafood.I found a recipe online from Giada De Laurentis, a famous Food Network chef, that I started with. I adjusted the recipe to fit our taste and base on what good seafood I could get.
I have found an Alaskan source that I trust, FishEx, and ordered fresh king crab and halibut from them. A box was shipped in on the day I was making the meal and the seafood was as fresh as you can get. I also tend to trust the people at the seafood counter at The Whole Grocer and got shrimp that they recommended.
This was a nice choice to cook for a party because, though it took a while to make, I prepared it before everyone got here, cleaned up while it simmered and just had to throw in the seafood at the last minute to finish it. We started with a cheese plate and served the soup on its own, simply with grilled garlic bread. You could do a simple salad to accompany but make sure you save room for cake!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 large shallots, chopped
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- 5 cups fish stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound halibut
- 1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 pounds of broken king crab pieces
- Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots and salt. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and sauté 2 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock* and bay leaf.
- Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.
- Add the crab to the pot. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and fish. Simmer gently (uncovered) until the fish and shrimp are just cooked through, stirring gently for about 5 minutes longer.
- Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and red pepper flakes.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.
- * I made the fish stock by covering the shrimp peels and a few pieces of crab with cold water and bring it to a slow boil for about 30 minutes. Strain before adding to the soup.
Number of servings (yield): 6