Cioppino with Fennel and Saffron

An abundance of seafood and three types of fennel (bulb, seed, and pollen) infuse Boudet's version of this San Francisco fish stew with remarkable flavor, while Calabrian chile paste and crushed red pepper add a subtle layer of heat. Because the West Coast is famous for their Dungeness crab, a large orange crab with meaty claws, it makes a dramatic showing in this seafood-packed dish. Dungeness crab are available fresh from November through June, but this dish can be made any time since many fish markets have cooked and frozen crabs available year round.

bowl of copping with grilled bread
Photo: Photo by Andrew Bui / Food Styling by Max Rappaport
Active Time:
1 hrs
Total Time:
1 hrs


For the Cioppino

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

  • 1 fennel bulb (about 12 ounces) core removed, thinly sliced

  • ½ cup white wine

  • 1 cup bottled clam juice or fish stock

  • ½ cup boiling water

  • 5 strands saffron

  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon Calabrian chile paste

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel

  • 1 teaspoon fennel pollen

  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 1 fresh or frozen Dungeness or yellow crab, cleaned and cut into quarters (thawed if frozen)

  • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp

  • ½ pound mild white fish fillet, skinned cut into 4 pieces

  • ½ pound clams and/or mussels, scrubbed, mussels de-bearded

For Serving

  • Grilled sourdough bread slices

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled

  • Olive oil

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley


  1. In a large Dutch oven with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onions and fennel and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Add the clam broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, in a small heat-proof liquid measuring cup or bowl, add ½ cup boiling water and the saffron; stir set aside.

  3. Add the tomatoes, Calabrian chile paste, bay leaf, fennel seed, fennel pollen, and crushed red pepper to the onion mixture and season with salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 15 minutes.

  4. Stir in the saffron and its liquid, along with the crab, shrimp, fish, and clams and/or mussels, stirring gently to coat the seafood in the broth. Cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the crab, shrimp, and fish are cooked through and the clams and/or mussels open (discard any that do not open), 10 to 12 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, toast or grill the bread. Rub the surface of the bread with the garlic clove. Drizzle the toasts with olive oil.

  6. Ladle the cioppino into bowls and drizzle with lemon juice; garnish with parsley and serve with the grilled bread.

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