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Simple LivingCioppino is an Italian standard, a fish stew in a tomato-based sauce, but before we get into the recipe, let’s have a lesson in correct pronunciation.

First, in Italian, the initial letters “ci” makes a “ch” sound, like the word “ciao.” Next, know that the word has only three syllables, never four; say it cho-PEE-no, not chee-oh-PEE-no. If you want to be exact, throw a bit of the “i” in the first syllable–chyo-PEE-no–but keep it to three syllables.

Good. Now, onward.

For my family, cioppino is the traditional Christmas Eve supper. In the morning it’s coffee and pastries over which we plan our maneuvers like Napoleonic generals. Just before noon, we split up–some to the kitchen, some to the streets. The kitchen crew begins the prep work for the sides and salads, breads and sweet-afters, while the street crews disperse, heading out to fish mongers and green grocers in search of the freshest of the fresh.

The calls come in to the kitchen. There’s fresh rockfish down the wharf. Scotty’s has sea bass. Central has live Dungeness, but they look small. The Dungeness at Petrini’s are beefy and fresh, but cooked. The kitchen receives the intel, reroutes operatives ad hoc, decides on the final mix of fish and shellfish, and sends out orders to purchase. The great thing about cioppino is that you aren’t locked into any specific mixture of seafood or shellfish. The only criteria is that it has to be good; flash-frozen is good, fresh is better, live is best (especially for the bivalves). Some years, winter storms will keep the crab-boats in harbor. Other years, there is no suitable fresh fish to be had. You have to be nimble, but the recipe doesn’t really care, as long as there is ample in the aggregate.

So take this recipe and make it your own, build it to your own taste. Pre-shell all the shellfish if you prefer. Keep the base, and build on that.

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