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- cioppino the 'time-consuming but worthwhile' way

Often, I silently lurk this community blog (I split this off from the Dinner thread), shaking my head in awe at all the talent we have here.

Please do expand on this "time-consuming" method for making cioppino. I know there are many short-cuts taken, but I'm not sure of the baseline, and I suspect others might be interested in hearing and learning as well.

I'll give you a start: "Cioppino is a San-Francisco-based, Italian-American seafood stew "¦."

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Often, I silently lurk this community blog (I split this off from the Dinner thread), shaking my head in awe at all the talent we have here.

Please do expand on this "time-consuming" method for making cioppino. I know there are many short-cuts taken, but I'm not sure of the baseline, and I suspect others might be interested in hearing and learning as well.

I'll give you a start: "Cioppino is a San-Francisco-based, Italian-American seafood stew "¦."

Cioppino is believed to have originated in SFO in the late1860s, invented by an Italian immigrant better known as the "fish king."

San Francisco's oldest restaurant preceded that by about 10 years, winning a Beard award in 1998.

Cioppino is said restaurant's signature dish.

Their recipe, as written up by the San Jose Mercury News.

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I'll give you a start: "Cioppino is a San-Francisco-based, Italian-American seafood stew "¦."

It's actually unclear that this is a strictly Italian-American dish. Many believe it has a stronger Portuguese ancestry than Italian, although "cioppino" is obviously not a Portuguese word (not a standard Italian word either). The traditional Portuguese dish caldeirada is very nearly the same dish, with allowance made for the different sea creatures available on the California coast. The main other difference is that caldeirada almost always has potatoes in it. Either way, good eating.

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I'm still trying to figure out how a very basic fish stew that I had years ago is one of the very best things I've ever eaten-it was cooked outside on the beach, over an open fire- when I asked what was in it- 'puppy drum, onions, potatoes...' They must have slipped in a chicken bouillon cube or just butter or beer....

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I'm still trying to figure out how a very basic fish stew that I had years ago is one of the very best things I've ever eaten-it was cooked outside on the beach, over an open fire- when I asked what was in it- 'puppy drum, onions, potatoes...' They must have slipped in a chicken bouillon cube or just butter or beer....

Same way a carafe of white table wine I had with a gnocchi al pesto in La Spezia was one of the greatest wines I've ever tasted.

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It's actually unclear that this is a strictly Italian-American dish. Many believe it has a stronger Portuguese ancestry than Italian, although "cioppino" is obviously not a Portuguese word (not a standard Italian word either). The traditional Portuguese dish caldeirada is very nearly the same dish, with allowance made for the different sea creatures available on the California coast. The main other difference is that caldeirada almost always has potatoes in it. Either way, good eating.

I'm definitely not 100% sure but, having read a fair amount of material about the origins of Cioppino over the years (because it's THAT good when made well  :) ), the story of Paladini seems consistent across several sources (books, articles, etc.) and thus credible.  That said, the dish has obvious ancestral connections to at least a half-dozen older Mediterranean seafood stews and soups from Portugal and Spain over to Italy/Sicily and even Greece.  Cioppino purists would scorn one decision I was forced to make when I made mine a few days ago.  I had to substitute for the required Dungeness Crab since it's not quite in season yet (though Blacksalt told me they could be ordered).

I'm still trying to figure out how a very basic fish stew that I had years ago is one of the very best things I've ever eaten-it was cooked outside on the beach, over an open fire- when I asked what was in it- 'puppy drum, onions, potatoes...' They must have slipped in a chicken bouillon cube or just butter or beer....

I think the butter is key*.  The recipe I used starts with onion and garlic slow-carmelized in olive oil and butter.  The broth is all about time and layering of flavors to yield something with some complexity that, more importantly, is delicious.  I made one other change to the Tadich recipe because I knew it was what the original recipe calls for and because it just makes sense.  Use fish stock (ideally homemade) instead of the 2 cups water specified in the recipe.  That change was made by the newspaper to make it more home-cook friendly. Bad move imho. If you're stock-challenged (I can relate as I'm learning and improving on stocks myself), Blacksalt probably isn't the only fish market that will sell freshly-made stock. Even that seems highly preferable to me than water or something "shelf-stable" at WF.  And, I really hope Mark gets open soon since kind of drag to drive out to Arlington to get the only baguette worth slicing and converting into garlic toast points for a dish like this.

* Along with just eating on the beach which, imho, makes anything taste at least 50% better than it really is.  :D 

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The way I heard it years ago, the origin of the name cioppino came from the accented English of Portugese and Italian fisherman and fishmongers in the Bay Area, who got together and "chipped in" to the stewpot whatever they had of various kinds of unsold fish, shellfish and scraps at the end of the day on the docks. As such, I have a hard time accepting as gospel the high falutin' expensive fine dining version that Tadich Grill represents of a rustic, working folks fish stew.

I make this all the time, with whatever is fresh and reasonably cheap at the fish market. The place I used to shop in Santa Monica had cut up fish scraps that they called "chowder mix" that they made from trimmings of their daily fileting, and it was cheap and perfect and you could tell them "not too much salmon, ok?" And then buy a few squid tubes and a few shrimp, and ask them for a frame for making stock and boom--fabulous feast for little money in the true spirit of the California origin of the dish. I usually go up to A&H Gourmet Seafood in Bethesda (which sells fish or lobster stock frozen, if I don't have any)or H Mart in Merrifield these days. They have the best prices and I get some monkfish, shrimp, squid,maybe a few scallops, mussels. Make a base with sauteed onion-leek-garlic-fennel, red pepper, white wine, fish or shrimp shell stock, tomatoes and aromatic herbs, and a splash of anise liqueur, and let that cook for a good long time. Then it's just a matter of adding the fish, shrimp, cut up squid and mussels a la minute, just until done.

Also, I have made it many times over the years with bottled clam juice in place of fish stock if I am in a hurry and/or don't have access to prepared stock. It works just fine.

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I'm definitely not 100% sure but, having read a fair amount of material about the origins of Cioppino over the years (because it's THAT good when made well  :) ), the story of Paladini seems consistent across several sources (books, articles, etc.) and thus credible. 

I'm suspicious of an origin story that traces the dish to a single person, and especially suspicious when that person and his descendents are proprietors of a business that profits from the association. Not that it's terribly important, of course, certainly nowhere near as important as the food.

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Make a base with sauteed onion-leek-garlic-fennel, red pepper, white wine, fish or shrimp shell stock, tomatoes and aromatic herbs, and a splash of anise liqueur, and let that cook for a good long time. Then it's just a matter of adding the fish, shrimp, cut up squid and mussels a la minute, just until done.

Also, I have made it many times over the years with bottled clam juice in place of fish stock if I am in a hurry and/or don't have access to prepared stock. It works just fine.

I also add anchovies to my base.  I read that in a cookbook a long time ago.

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http://www.recipesbyrita.com/recipes/rec-cioppino.html is the recipe for Dinah Shore's Cioppino which Craig Claiborne, in the New York Times, called the best he ever had.  He originally published it in one of the New York Times cookbooks.  The recipe calls for fish stock.  I make fish fume which is richer, from scratch, with fish heads and frames.

FWIW I am obsessed with fish stew.  I make a seriously good bouillibasse that may be my signature dish.  I once wrote this on Chowhound about my search for the best bouillibasse in France:  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/485636  Having said this Dinah Shore's Cioppino made with from scratch fish fumet challenges it.  When I make cioppino I'll also make garlic bread which (for a loaf of seeded Italian bread with inch thick slices) uses two sticks of unsalted Vermont butter/French butter with two thirds of a head of minced garlic then sprinkled with basil, red pepper flakes, caraway seed and topped with freshly grated Reggiano.  Baked for 10 or so minutes.  The recipe above mentions something about linguine in the base of the bowl.  Blasphemy!  Cioppino with good, real homemade garlic bread (i.e. mixing freshly minced garlic with good butter) is the standard.

I believe the foundation of any fish stew is the stock or fume.  A two and half pound Red Snapper along with a two and half pound Grouper (frames and heads); onion, leek, fennel and garlic sauteed in butter then adding sauvignon blanc (Kim Crawford?), bouquet garni and water.  For Dinah Shore's cioppino I do NOT use a cup of clam juice.  Rather, I use three cups of fish fumet. I believe this adds a depth and richness that is just intensely delicious.  It's a lot more effort but the result is serious.

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http://www.recipesbyrita.com/recipes/rec-cioppino.html is the recipe for Dinah Shore's Cioppino which Craig Claiborne, in the New York Times, called the best he ever had.  He originally published it in one of the New York Times cookbooks.  The recipe calls for fish stock.  I make fish fume which is richer, from scratch, with fish heads and frames.

FWIW I am obsessed with fish stew.  I make a seriously good bouillibasse that may be my signature dish.  I once wrote this on Chowhound about my search for the best bouillibasse in France:  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/485636  Having said this Dinah Shore's Cioppino made with from scratch fish fumet challenges it.  When I make cioppino I'll also make garlic bread which (for a loaf of seeded Italian bread with inch thick slices) uses two sticks of unsalted Vermont butter/French butter with two thirds of a head of minced garlic then sprinkled with basil, red pepper flakes, caraway seed and topped with freshly grated Reggiano.  Baked for 10 or so minutes.  The recipe above mentions something about linguine in the base of the bowl.  Blasphemy!  Cioppino with good, real homemade garlic bread (i.e. mixing freshly minced garlic with good butter) is the standard.

I believe the foundation of any fish stew is the stock or fume.  A two and half pound Red Snapper along with a two and half pound Grouper (frames and heads); onion, leek, fennel and garlic sauteed in butter then adding sauvignon blanc (Kim Crawford?), bouquet garni and water.  For Dinah Shore's cioppino I do NOT use a cup of clam juice.  Rather, I use three cups of fish fumet. I believe this adds a depth and richness that is just intensely delicious.  It's a lot more effort but the result is serious.

When I made this a few days ago, I made the garlic toast simply by thin-slicing a LeoNora baguette on the diagonal and then slathering with softened Irish butter blended with a few cloves of mince garlic ground with salt into a paste.  Maybe 1/4 of a stick of butter at most but sounds like you make a greater quantity of it than we needed.  We also grilled it; something different but it turned out well.

Couldn't agree more on the importance of stock/fumet but, in full disclosure, I've never tried it with clam juice.

In terms of the 'real story' on the dish's origins, may be impossible to say but there are a seemingly almost infinite different variations of fish stew.  I've also done what Zora wrote about: combining what's available, inexpensive and fresh from a seafood market with a similar technique as described in this topic.  But, have always thought those kinds of fish stews, while easier, less costly and delicious, aren't proper cioppino according to most definitions.

Finally, go figure!  Noticed below this post that one of the "also tagged with" topics below was this one, which I'd never noticed here.

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The way I heard it years ago, the origin of the name cioppino came from the accented English of Portugese and Italian fisherman and fishmongers in the Bay Area, who got together and "chipped in" to the stewpot whatever they had of various kinds of unsold fish, shellfish and scraps at the end of the day on the docks. As such, I have a hard time accepting as gospel the high falutin' expensive fine dining version that Tadich Grill represents of a rustic, working folks fish stew.

This is the story I have heard as well.

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Truth of it is it can be an expensive dish to make.

The point I am trying to make is that it doesn't have to be, unless you are thinking that Tadich Grill's or Dinah Shore's version is the only real, authentic cioppino there is. It may be more delicious and elegant. It is certainly full of expensive ingredients, like fresh halibut and crabmeat. I wouldn't ever suggest that bottled clam juice is as good as either fishmarket-made or homemade fish stock. And what I call homemade fish stock is what you call fish fumet, Joe: white-fleshed fish head/bones/skin cooked with aromatic vegetables and herbs, white wine and water. I wouldn't serve tomato-based seafood stew made with clam juice to company, but we often have it as a weekday dinner, and the occasional shortcut is permissable.

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You're serious?  It costs $150 or more to make this dish the way I am describing.  Cioppino as described is a serious dish worthy of a lot of prep time and I am honored to serve.

Zora, I'm not trying to be disagreeable but Cioppino or Bouillibasse or several other seafood stews are one of my favorite dishes of any on earth. Perhaps the difference between what I am suggesting and the "every day" meal is small but there is a depth of flavor, an aroma that is significant.  Yannick Cam and Cathal Armstrong both make excellent, "proper" bouillibasse.

I am suggesting one that might be a little bit better.  Unfortunately, for this it involves a small investment and a lot of time.  And, I have no idea if either of these is "proper."  I am only talking about sitting at a table and moaning while I take the next bite.

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[May I intervene and suggest that you're both talking about two completely different renditions of the same dish? I don't "know" Cioppino, but I've had some of the best Bouillabaisse in the world, and agree that it costs - and is worth - nearly $100 per person; but I've also had wonderful seafood stews and chowders for less than $10. At both price points, they can be worth the money. Carry on"¦]

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It seems to me that haute cuisine versions of dishes like bouillabaisse or cioppino, however elegant and delicious they may be, are aberrations rather than platonic ideals. Does anyone remember the bouillabaisse de morue at Lavandou in Cleveland Park, when that restaurant was new and wonderful? It was not only the best dish on their menu, it was about the cheapest as well.

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Cioppino almost certainly was started as a dish of humble origins in San Francisco.  I doubt that the fishermen would take the time to make a fumet before putting the fish in.  I suspect, from talking to people with long histories in the food and wine business in Northern California, that part of the catch were contributed, filleted and cooked with some onions, herbs, garlic and tomatoes as an easy and warming dinner.  As Ambrose Bierce or Mark Twain or one of their publicists once said, the coldest winter I've ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.  THe dish as I have had it described was eaten standing with rough red wine on a quick break from taking in the catch.  So the fish was probably filleted.  Maybe small whole bony fish were cooked int he tomatoes and onions and strained out, but I somehow don't think even this was done.  At in the late 1800's shellfish and crab and lobster were foods of the poor still, not fit for the like of gourmands.

One the fish shacks became full on restaurants and before their proprietors became the political power-base of the City, the dish evolved.  I still remember the first time I tried the version at Scoma's in the early 60's and then at Tadich and Spenglers.  Then returning in the mid to late 80's when these meals had become fabulously expensive and far less wonderful.

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FWIW, I think Dean, Zora and Don are all right here. Based on whatever I know about the history of Cioppino, it also occurs to me now (thanks to the discussion above) that:

- Cioppino surely was born of humble origins

- As the dish evolved, so did its cost

- Perhaps a main reason why it has become less humble in cost is due to the big changes in seafood habitat and populations. For example, supposedly the humble seafarers of the late 1800s would "throw a couple of Dungeness crabs in" because they were plentiful and inexpensive. Some "authorities" today claim that Dungeness is a required ingredient for "proper" Cioppino but, if you order and buy a couple of nice ones at Blacksalt market, the pricing ain't so "humble."

Don's surely right about the two different versions of the same dish. And I'm 150% certain I've had ridiculously expensive and equally absurdly inexpensive tomato-based fish stews that were both wonderful.

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It seems to me that haute cuisine versions of dishes like bouillabaisse or cioppino, however elegant and delicious they may be, are aberrations rather than platonic ideals. Does anyone remember the bouillabaisse de morue at Lavandou in Cleveland Park, when that restaurant was new and wonderful? It was not only the best dish on their menu, it was about the cheapest as well.

I apologize for mentioning this again but my post above referenced:  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/485636  "Proper" bouillibasse and its presentation is one of the most spectacularly delicious meals I have ever experienced.  To my knowledge, there is nothing like this in America.  There are only a handful of places today that do this anywhere on the French Riviera.  TBH i've never another "fish stew" anywhere that had anything in common with what we were served at L'Ane Rouge.  But that's the point:  it wasn't a fish stew.  It was twelve different fish, each of which had their own flavor, their own texture.  With rascasse there was an intensity and creaminess to the broth that was extraordinary.  Then throw in the presentation and a lot of copper and a huge wooden platter.  I should also mention that it probably is becoming a kind of aberration:  it's so labor intensive:  both the preparation and the presentation.  Then there's the matter of the fish:  there WERE twelve different and each was described at the table.  They owned their own fishing boat and the fish varied each time this was served according to what they caught.  We were fortunate since that day's catch had been a good one.

I should also mention a bourride that we had at a Michelin starred restaurant south of Cannes.  This didn't have the presentation but the complexity of the satiny broth, coming a day after L'Ane Rouge, was amazingly delicious.

This is one of the best essays I have ever read, from R. W. Apple, "A Prime Kettle of Fish" in 2002:  http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/07/dining/a-prime-kettle-of-fish.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

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Thanks to all above for a fascinating thread.  Its been years since I've had Cioppino or thought of it.  The versions I had years ago were wondrous dishes but time has dimmed my memories of the specifics.  Now I have a hankering for it;  to dine on it and to prepare it.  

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You're serious?  It costs $150 or more to make this dish the way I am describing.  Cioppino as described is a serious dish worthy of a lot of prep time and I am honored to serve.

Zora, I'm not trying to be disagreeable but Cioppino or Bouillibasse or several other seafood stews are one of my favorite dishes of any on earth. Perhaps the difference between what I am suggesting and the "every day" meal is small but there is a depth of flavor, an aroma that is significant.  Yannick Cam and Cathal Armstrong both make excellent, "proper" bouillibasse.

I am suggesting one that might be a little bit better.  Unfortunately, for this it involves a small investment and a lot of time.  And, I have no idea if either of these is "proper."  I am only talking about sitting at a table and moaning while I take the next bite.

I would be absolutely delighted to eat your version of cioppino, Joe. And I guarantee that if I were to invite you to my house for my version, it would be based on homemade fish stock, not clam juice. But there is never only one way to make any dish, especially one of rustic, peasant origins. As it evolves into the realm of haute cuisine, humbler forms of the dish aren't required to disappear into the void. While you may choose to prepare or eat only the most elegant, moan-worthy cioppino, I'm content to make both a "Tuesday-dinner" version for J and me, and a "company's coming over" version on the occasions I serve it to guests. The short-cut I most often take on weekdays is to make a shrimp-shell stock (with shrimp heads, when I can get head-on shrimp)from the shrimp that I will put into the stew. Maybe not quite as classic as a good fish fumet, but pretty damn tasty.

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In truth I make bouillibasse or cioppino about once every three or four months.  Kinkead also has a superb recipe for Portuguese seafood stew which is as labor intensive as any of these:  http://starchefs.com/chefs/BKinkead/html/recipe_05.shtml  For both the stew and the stew base I use the fish fumet noted above.

I must also note that this recipe is in his cookbook.  BUT, in the cookbook this sentence is left out:  "Remove the seafood and place in 6 warm bowls and reduce the cooking liquid by a quarter."  I once made this for Jeff and Barbara Black knowing that he used to make the very same dish decades ago when he worked for Kinkead.  (I was either brave or truly stupid...)  I followed the recipe exactly-the recipe from Kinkead's cookbook which left out the reduction.

Flavor was incredible.  It just should have been reduced and I hadn't realized this.  I should have, but didn't.  (I was truly stupid.)

Anyway, I made it again a couple of months later, reducing the stock and it was fantastic!

I must mention that Kinkead has an outstanding recipe for "Saracen" ice cream in his book-one of the best flavors I've ever had.

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I would be absolutely delighted to eat your version of cioppino, Joe. And I guarantee that if I were to invite you to my house for my version, it would be based on homemade fish stock, not clam juice. But there is never only one way to make any dish, especially one of rustic, peasant origins. As it evolves into the realm of haute cuisine, humbler forms of the dish aren't required to disappear into the void. While you may choose to prepare or eat only the most elegant, moan-worthy cioppino, I'm content to make both a "Tuesday-dinner" version for J and me, and a "company's coming over" version on the occasions I serve it to guests. The short-cut I most often take on weekdays is to make a shrimp-shell stock (with shrimp heads, when I can get head-on shrimp)from the shrimp that I will put into the stew. Maybe not quite as classic as a good fish fumet, but pretty damn tasty.

I didn't want to just "like" the above.  As the instigator of this post (with Don's help; thank you, good sir), I started out musing about "proper" Cioppino as defined by a recipe I've used and enjoyed.  The Tadich Grill variant is maybe closer to what Joe favors than the more humble peasant versions but I've also learned a lot from this thread and have to think Zora nails the issue of "proper" best above.

The quote isn't just informed and inclusive; it's also realistic.

So many great fish stews and soups out there to be enjoyed by so very many great people like everyone on this thread.  I'm actually inspired to try some experimentation with less expensive ingredients the next time we make fish stew.

Finally, worth noting also that, while the focus on this topic has been Mediterranean (or Mediterranean-inspired), tomato-based fish stews, there are whole other worlds of non-tomato based fish stews.

One of my absolute faves which I've made dozens of time, incorporates coconut milk and baby bok choy. I use a good-quality firm white fish for it; usually cod.  The technique is somewhat similar to the cioppino recipes but it's Asian with fresh ginger, mirin and a bit of curry powder instead of tomato. Surely this deserves at least '3rd cousin, once removed' status to cioppino though it's a simpler recipe. I never eat tilapia and what white fish is chosen totally determines cost.  I've posted about it once or twice on the dinner thread and think it very delicious with a very high return-on-time paired with rice.  Recipe for anyone interested here.  Even Don could make this and he'd know the ideal wine to pair with it.  I usually go with a Gruner or Sauv Blanc.

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In truth I make bouillibasse or cioppino about once every three or four months.  Kinkead also has a superb recipe for Portuguese seafood stew which is as labor intensive as any of these:  http://starchefs.com/chefs/BKinkead/html/recipe_05.shtml  For both the stew and the stew base I use the fish fumet noted above.

I must also note that this recipe is in his cookbook.  BUT, in the cookbook this sentence is left out:  "Remove the seafood and place in 6 warm bowls and reduce the cooking liquid by a quarter."  I once made this for Jeff and Barbara Black knowing that he used to make the very same dish decades ago when he worked for Kinkead.  (I was either brave or truly stupid...)  I followed the recipe exactly-the recipe from Kinkead's cookbook which left out the reduction.[/size]

Flavor was incredible.  It just should have been reduced and I hadn't realized this.  I should have, but didn't.  (I was truly stupid.)

I got burned many years ago by following a recipe by Dione Lucas to the letter and ending up with a disaster, when common sense would have told me that it was wrong. I learned two important lessons from that experience: 1) don't treat cookbook recipes as gospel; and 2) don't make something for the first time when hosting dinner guests. What I have been learning of recent, is that publishers of recipes often prevail upon recipe writers to "simplify" their recipes, so that home cooks won't be intimidated by them. The whole "30 minute meal" and "5 ingredient" meme has become the ideal toward which publishers in a variety of media strive for their authors, with visions of success a la Rachel Ray. (Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Thomas Keller are notable exceptions, and I'm sure many others, as well.) It may have been Kinkead's editor who decided that the reduction step was superfluous or one step too many. But the reality is, that recipes in chefs' or restaurants' cookbooks are rarely the same as the way the dish is prepared in the restaurant, just "cut down in volume" for the home cook. Jeff Black, who worked for Kinkead for a long time, knew how the dish was prepared in the restaurant. How could you possibly have known that step had been eliminated from the instructions in the book?

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Think about it, how often do you cook fish stew/ bouillabaisse for the people you live with? (I hardly ever cook it)-I hope that I would take everything I learned here, & make the best cioppino/ fish stew ever- definitely fish frames/shrimp shells, but usually, I try & throw things together...I am in the camp of 'whatever works, try it'. & as far as treating cookbooks as gospel, they're more of a rough framework...

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We're talking special occasion dinners with the bouillibasse, cioppino and beef dishes with heavily concentrated stock reductions mentioned above.  My wife and I just don't eat like this at home unless it is an 'event.'

The "event" can also be an excuse to try recipes that I've lusted for in the past but never wanted to donate the time or expense to try.  I have enough confidence in myself to believe that I can follow almost any recipe correctly (but, obviously, not enough common sense to know when to reduce a seafood stew....).  And, I collect cookbooks. Almost two hundred now. For myself part of the pleasure of a dinner "event' is reading through a slew of cookbooks and finding that which i think will really work.

Ideally something I won't screw up.

Or, if i do, to pour enough good wine that it won't matter.

This last point is the most important:  I have got more people loaded before eating my cooking...

Still, there are some things that have really turned out.  Bouillibasse, cioppino and Portuguese seafood stew (the second time!) were among them.

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