In our house, this is known as ‘Cioppino di Crema con Coco’, an Italian-American-inspired fish-based, chunky soup. Despite the name, it’s not traditional Italian fare, but rather my imaginings of a flavour profile I was craving; creamy, smoky, and ocean fresh.
Cold weather, warm soup
The shift in seasons always gets us thinking about our favourite comfort foods. Soups. Stews. Chowders.
The right soup warms you to the bone. Pair it with your favourite biscuits, savoury scones or toasted sandwiches and you’re cozy and well-fed, without overeating.
Cioppino, so, it’s not Italian?
Loosely inspired by the American-Italian classic tomato-based fish soup created by immigrant Italian fishermen in San Francisco in the 1800’s; Cioppino di Crema is traditional Cioppino’s creamy cousin. Part soup, part stew, it’s a meal in a bowl!
The name “cioppino” is Italian, coming from the Ligurian dialect, “ciuppin” meaning “chopped, or “torn to pieces”.
Its humble origins made Cioppino a catch-of-the-day soup with crab legs, clams, shrimp, mussels, and white fish. All found, in great supply in The Bay region in the late-1800s. In this recipe, we honour tradition by poaching fish fillets whole, then gently tearing them into bite-sized pieces for a chunky, casual effect.
Because I live much further north, in this catch-of-the-day soup, we’re featuring salmon and haddock, which are plentiful in colder waters. But you can use whatever seafood you like.
Omega 3, It’s a Good Fat
Poaching the salmon whole, skin on, in the warm broth captures the flavour and freshness of the fish but also extracts as much nutrition as possible while keeping your fish moist and tender.
Salmon is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, most of which lie in and just under the skin. Poaching, skin on, renders those heart-healthy fats into the pot and not into the compost!
Control Your Heat
To make the most of our omega fats in Cioppino di Crema, we bring our soup base – made with pancetta, onion, leek, dried herbs, stock and cream – to a low boil – never exceeding medium heat. Then reduce heat to medium-low, add the heavy cream, and simmer for 5 to ten minutes until your broth is EXACTLY how you like it.
Still bubbling on low, slide in your salmon, very gently, before placing a tight-fitting lid on top.
Poach for about five minutes, remove the salmon fillet, whole, and gently peel back the skin which has become thin and papery. Shred the remaining flesh, lightly with a large spoon, before returning it to the pot.
Now remove the pot from the heat, poach the white fish for about three minutes, stir and serve immediately.
Top to bottom, Cioppino di Crema is a meal in 45 minutes or less. Despite its creamy appearance it’s a stock-based soup finished with cream, for a lighter, leaner fish stew with all the flavour and half the fat.
Cioppino di Crema Provisions
It’s a short shopping list because great meals don’t need a laundry list of ingredients. Simple, and fresh is best.
Pancetta: Italian cured pork belly, pancetta is the backbone of the flavour profile.
Onion: Sweet. Either yellow or white onion.
Leek: Just the white part, split, well washed & chopped.
Dried Herbs: Thyme, oregano & basil. Dried herbs impart the best flavour in soups & stews without blackening from the heat, like fresh herbs.
Fish fumé, Chicken stock, Vegetable stock or Water: Either way. I prefer protein stocks with protein soups because they help to keep the nutrition level high.
Heavy Cream: We’re not going to use a lot of it, so make that cream count.
Salmon: Your choice, Atlantic or Pacific. A decent-sized fillet of fresh, salmon, skin on, de-scaled.
Haddock: Two meaty pieces of fresh Haddock, Cod, Halibut or Sole. Any mild, white-fleshed fish will do.
Seasonal Fish Soup or Soulful Celebration
Enjoy Cioppino di Crema con Coco (by Coco) in your favourite soup season, or as a celebratory feast. Despite its humble presentation, it’s a gloriously elegant meal, worthy of holiday fare.
Cioppino di Crema, is an Italian-American-inspired cream-based fish soup, with fish poached whole and lightly torn for a tasty, rustic bowl of warmth and goodness. Simple ingredients underscore the taste of the sea, with little to no interference, for a hearty soup that doubles as a simple meal or celebration starter.
1cup pancetta, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, white only, split lengthwise, chopped & washed (see notes)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano (2 teaspoons fresh)
1 teaspoon dried basil (see note)
4cups chicken stock
3/4cup heavy cream
1 – 10ounce salmon fillet, skin on
2 – 3ounce haddock fillets
1/4cup flatleaf parsley
Salt & pepper to taste
In a large pot over medium heat, add a generous slick of olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer add fresh, chopped pancetta and sweat lightly, stirring to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
As the pancetta is just beginning to turn golden-brown, add onions and sweat, combined with the pancetta for about two minutes, before adding your leeks. Sweat the mixture down over medium heat for about three minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and transparent.
Check your level of olive oil, if the pancetta mixture looks dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil and bring it to temperature before adding flour, mixing lightly and toasting for 3 to 5 minutes to make your roux. Now add your cold stock (or water), and dried herbs; thyme, basil, and oregano. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring broth to a low boil, for about 5 minutes, to thicken and reduce your broth by about a quarter.
Reduce your heat to low. and slowly add heavy cream. Check the consistency and flavour of your broth. We’re looking for a soup that is almost sauce-like, not thin and runny. As the Cioppino di Crema base comes to temperature, ease the salmon fillet, whole, into the hot creamy broth, cover it with a tight lid and let stand for five minutes on low heat.
Remove the lid and gently scoop out the salmon fillet into a small bowl. With a large spoon gently scrape the now thin, easy-to-remove salmon skin. With the side of your spoon gently tear the salmon flash into good-sized pieces and return the flesh to the broth.
Remove the pot completely from the heat, and add the haddock or white fish of your choice. Replace the lid and poach fillets for about three minutes. Then stir, to break down any large-ish chunks of fish. Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve, immediately. OR – hold for up to an hour, off-heat, and then slowly re-warm over medium-low heat to serve.
Washing leeks: Leeks are sandy little suckers. You’ll often find dirt trapped between the leaves. To wash the leeks properly remove the root and everything above the pale green of the stalk. Then slipt lengthwise and cup into half-moon pieces about a centimeter wide. Place chopped leeks in a bowl. Fill a bowl with water so your leek bits float. Agitate lightly and let them stand in the water for about 3 minutes then gently scoop out the floating leeks into a colander or sive and discard dirty water. This way all the dirt sinks to the bottom and your leeks are squeaky clean.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:30 minutes
Keywords: Cioppino di Crema, Italian Fish Soup, Fish Stew
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.