I picked up a jar of cioppino sauce on a trip to Groomer’s Seafood, 9801 McCullough Ave., a couple of months ago. Then, it sat on a pantry shelf, always looking tempting but me not pursuing the rest of the ingredients that make up this delicious dish.
Cioppino is a tomato-based fish and shellfish stew, seasoned with white wine, bay leaves, oregano, fennel, thinned with fish stock and so forth. It is said to have been the creation of Italian immigrants in San Francisco, early in the 20th century.
Recently, because I had to take a cat to the vet, whose office is roughly in Groomer’s vicinity, I stopped in for fresh fish and shrimp on the way home. I was thinking about that jar of cioppino sauce finally being put to use for a quick, cheater’s version of cioppino for dinner. I had high hopes.
Because it was a busy day, we did little more than cut up our pound of cobia, a firm white fish that comes out of the waters of Colombia and add it to the simmering tomato sauce along with the shrimp. Ready in minutes.
The results were nothing spectacular. So, what did I expect?
Nevertheless, I’d give it a solid grade of a B, and really, I’d probably buy this cioppino sauce-in-a-jar again. But, I think I would just use it as a pasta sauce — it was thick enough, and would be fine for a red clam sauce or mushroom sauce, tossed with hot pasta and served with plenty of Parmesan cheese.
If I did decide to use again for cioppino, I’d chop up a little fresh fennel (with the leaves leaves) and saute with a clove or two of minced garlic. This, along with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes and a half-cup of white wine would give it more life.
The sauce was $6.99 for a 32-ounce jar. It is made by Norman Bishop Epicurean Foods and is called San Francisco-Style Cioppino Sauce. It’s fat free and the label also promises that it is “All Natural.”
If you want to do an easy, from-scratch version of cioppino, try this recipe from the Food Network, below. There are also many recipes that are far more time-consuming, such as ones in which you make your own fish fumet (stock) to use in the cioppino. And, that’s probably time well spent — if you have it!