Memories of South Fork and Cioppino with Mussels
© Stephanie Meyer
As a young boy growing up in New York City, we would spend our summers on the South Fork of Long Island. My dad would take me down to the beach at low tide, we would walk a mile down to the jetties and he would lower me by my ankles into the crevices between the massive boulders to grab at huge ropes of mussels. We would crab on Georgica pond for fun, pull clams out of Gardiners Bay, fish for porgies and snappers and make up any deficits for our Saturday dinners at the local seafood store. I thought we were foraging, but now that I am a dad, I realize this was my pop’s way of staying sane on rainy days with a seven-year-old to look after. We would haul our treasure home and my mother would make a superb summer fish stew out of whatever we brought in the door. My mom was as brilliant a cook as my dad is. She passed away a few months ago, and I am recooking my way through her recipe bin. My mother went to college at Mills, in San Francisco, and she roomed with Trader Vic Bergeron’s daughter. Vic taught them to cook late at night in the kitchen of the original outpost of the international Polynesian restaurant concept that still bears his name. Vic loved to eat, according to my mom, and while pupu platters were more his thing when it came to selling food, he loved the cuisine of northern California and made sure my mom knew how to make a simple cioppino before she graduated.
This easy and simple tomato-and-wine-spiked seafood stew is a Bay Area staple. Cioppino was supposedly created in the late 19th century by Portuguese and Italian fishermen who settled in the region from Genoa, Italy. Like all these types of dishes, it was first made on the boats while the men were out at sea and then found its way into the Italian restaurants that exploded on the scene in San Francisco. The name comes from ciuppin, a Ligurian word meaning “to chop” or “chopped,” which described a fisherman’s chore of chopping up scraps and bits of the day’s catch that weren’t sellable.
This recipe has been in my family since the early ’50s in one way or another and I love it. Serve it with plenty of toasts made from sourdough boule and a large, bracing green salad.
Go to Recipe: Cioppino with Mussels