Why hello there, and WELCOME TO KITCHEN CATASTROPHE’S ONE-HUNDREDTH CATASTROPHE!!!!
Will this joke ever get old? Unlikely.
Yes, we’ve done it. We’ve gotten to the Triple Digits, meaning that one more character has been stolen from future title cards. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment…or would be, if human emotion stirred in my breast, rather than an eternal, brooding patience. And speaking of patience, today’s post is ALL about it! Both on my end, on other’s, and in the recipe itself. So let’s dig into a Soup of Five Fishes, and a Sixth on the side, this is Cioppino and Crab Cakes.
Stop, Wait a Minute. Fill My Cup, Put Some Liquor in it
Firstly, let’s talk about the elephant seal in the room. He’s mine. I bought him as part of a “White Elephant Christmas gift exchange” as a really good pun, and he was fucking delivered late, alright. I don’t want him here anymore than you do.
I was gonna paint him and everything! Now I figure I'll have to use him as a living bean-bag chair.
Wait, no, that was a glib sea-based metaphor for the question so many of you little smartie-pants are asking right now: “Jon,” you ask, your eyes gleaming with the satisfaction of having remembered an important detail to an unfolding plot, “don’t you hate seafood?” And the answer to that question is yes. Well, ‘hate’ is a strong word I try to only reserve for the Westboro Baptist Church, and the Transformer movies. But you’re correct that I am not fond of fish, squeamish with shellfish, and outright balk at bivalves. This is why today’s topic is so long in coming, not that most of you know that. To explain those cryptic clarifiers, let’s talk about something I don’t think I’ve mentioned on the site before, “The Tally”.
“The Tally” is an overly pretentious name I gave my own memory. More specifically, the part of my memory I’ve devoted to recording and tracking who I owe, and who owes me, what I’ve borrowed, and has been borrowed from me, and essentially every kind of long-standing debt or agreement I have yet to resolve. And the currently relevant detail on the incredibly irrelevant construct of my mind is this: I don’t erase shit on The Tally, not for my benefit. If somebody borrows something of mine, and moves away without returning it, I’ll sigh irritatedly and chalk it off as a “going away present”, but if I remember that I owe you, I NEVER say “Well, it’s been a while, I’m sure they don’t care.” To me, that debt is still out-standing.
For instance, at one point, as unlikely as it may seem, my youngest brother was dating a nice young woman, and I attended her Christmas party. The party, in what I considered true Christmas spirit, was serving a concoction not unlike the Jungle Juices one finds in college house parties or armed forces barbecues: a mixture of high-potency spirits with liqueurs, mixers, and (sometimes) fruit, meant to create glasses that do not taste impressively alcoholic, but nonetheless ARE.
Alcohol being something of a specialty of mine.
In any case, I had a cup or two of Christmas cheer, one thing lead to another, and I ended up waking up the next morning with a cloth rose pinned in my hair, an article I KNOW started the evening in the hair of our hostess. I resolved to return it to her at the earliest opportunity. That was, according to my brother, whom I believe, roughly EIGHT YEARS AGO. And I still have the rose, despite moving twice since I acquired it. I know to whom it should be returned, and I intend to do so. Eventually.
And I’m fine with that. Patience, as I have often jested on the site, is potentially my only virtue. Like a dragon in European mythology, I’m basically the living embodiment of every kind of sin, but I can wait like a motherfucker, counting the clinking coins of my hoard, burning Geatish Kings, and otherwise embodying Satan in mortal form.
Yeah I know the adjective form of "Geat" offhand. Fight me, trell-spawn.
And the thing is, like ancient compacts with beasts of scale and sin, some of those agreements and debts can get kind of…silly. To explain, I have to introduce you to an old friend of mine.
No Need to “Russ” Things
So, as I have noted time and again, I went to Washington State University, where a got a degree in Theatre, and almost minored in Philosophy. I did this because I despise the concept of material wealth. Seriously, I first went to the college as a PRE-LAW student! Can you imagine how much filthy, disgusting currency I’d have right now if not for my quick thinking?
And with all these ghost hands getting their sticky ectoplasm all over it!
I made many friends in my time there, boon companions of many stripes and temperaments. One of them is a man we will call “Russ”, because it is a very clever reference to his name. “Russ” and I have maintained a cordial friendship and polite discourse for many years now. In his pursuit of becoming a teacher, he came to my hometown and taught middle school for a while, I attended a New Year’s Eve party of his, so on and so forth. One of Russ’s great talents, in my experience, is his nigh-perfect comportment as a Victorian fop: a man of learning and quiet dignity, he is quite capable of cutting loose at the aforementioned collegiate festivities, with potent juices flowing.
He is also a man of almost infinite support: “Russ” believes in you. Back many years ago, he was among the first to read my Facebook note “A College-Student’s Guide to Cheese Souffle and Despair”, wherein I chronicled FOUR HOURS of struggling to make a simple cheese pastry, and the unending anguish it wrought upon me, a post that marked the technical beginning of Kitchen Catastrophes. He was an early fan, always enquiring after the next dish to be featured, suggesting new tactics and ideas. Finally, on September 15, 2014, he commented on one of the notes: “I nominate your next dish to be seafood cioppino.”
And I have held that suggestion, and considered it, for 3 years, 3 months…3 weeks…and…Are you fucking joking me? December 15 goes to January 5th, today is…holy shit. 3 days. 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days. Exactly.
It's certainly a...red letter day.
I…didn’t plan that. I just thought it would be a dish expensive enough and flashy enough to fit the appeal of a 100th post! That’s…spooky.
Mind-blowing coincidences so unlikely they serve as indirect proof of a higher power aside, I’d considered making the dish plenty of times in the past. Any time I was planning more than a week ahead, I’d say, with a rueful chuckle, “maybe this is the time I bite the bullet and make cioppino.” And guys, this time, it is.
With Special Guest!
Since I was already knocking off a long-outstanding debt on The Tally based on seafood, a little chime went off in my brain, reminding me that I also owed my brother a seafood-based debt. Last January, I regaled you all with the tale of making Crab Cakes, and how in the end, 2/3rds of the people who ate them don’t even like crab. That’s because, as I DIDN’T mention in the post, that originally, they were meant to be served earlier in the day, while my brother was visiting. But I got distracted playing board games, and so I didn’t start cooking until he left.
He took this as an intentional snub, and forced me to swear I would make crab cakes again when he was home to make up for it, and has borne the slight heavy on his heart since that day, being unfailingly brusque and rude with me in almost every interaction, belittling my accomplishments, and bullying me, to remind me of my debt. Either that, or he’s just an asshole, and that’s how we talk to each other. Could be either one.
So, not content with a soup filled with five kinds of fish, I also made crab cakes, AND bought some smoked salmon bellies. So by the end of the day, I’ll have eaten 7 different kinds of food I dislike. At this juncture, I think I’m bullying myself…
I’m not growing little bushes on the soup, Title Jon. Let it go.
Let it go?
And you simmer the fuck down too, Caption Jon. I am legitimately slightly disturbed at that damn quadruple 3s things, and the idea that I harass myself on a constant basis. Also, just because we’ve been waiting three years to write this shit doesn’t mean it has to take three years to READ, too. We’ve stalled long enough. Let’s make some fucking soup!
BUT FIRST (God damn it) some quick history: Cioppino is actually an American invention, created by Genoese fishermen who moved into the San Francisco area. No one knows exactly when it was created, as it was at first an informal soup made by fishing boats all pulling together in the evening and sharing their catch. “Cioppino” either comes from the Genoese meaning “Chopped”, referring to the diced seafood filling the pot, or as a corruption of “ciuppin”, meaning “Fish soup”. It could be both, no one cares, let’s make this shit.
As with so many recipes, the foundation of the soup is pretty simple: it’s mostly a matter of taking a BUNCH OF SEAFOOD.
A Shit-load of Seafood
And dumping the seafood into simmering broth in stages so it all comes out equally cooked. The Cod cooks longer than the clams, which cook longer than the shrimp, etc. Supposedly, if everything is prepped and ready, the soup only takes about 30 minutes to make! Ours took an hour, and…well, we’ll get to it when we get to it.
The first step is to clean your seafood. Bones must be removed from the cod, the clams and mussels must be de-bearded and scrubbed. “De-bearding”, of course, is my least favorite cooking process, on sheer symbolic weight. And also because it can be a pain in the ass.
Ja feel, little mussel dude. Ja feel.
Some clams, and most mussels, have a “beard”, which is the little strands they use to hold onto the rocks/whales/Great Leviathan, mightiest of God’s sea beasts/ or piers that they grow on. Beards aren’t bad for you, as half of Portland can attest, but they aren’t particular nice to eat, as the other half of Portland can also attest. So you just pull them off. And for being so small, let me tell you, those suckers can be strong! It’s best to pull back toward the hinge, as pulling the other way can damage the meat.
Now, cleaning the various seafood took us something like 30 minutes, though guides assure me that this number can be reduced to around 12 with practice and familiarity. All I know is this recipe was already taking far longer than it should.
Speaking of the recipe, our is a Frankenstein of a thing, made by merging two recipes we found, because we preferred the methods of one, but the ingredients of another. While analyzing the two recipes, I found that, despite serving the same amount of people, one of them had twice as much seafood, and almost twice as much liquid in their soup. As this is the 100th Catastrophe, we ended up using the larger quantities, out of a sense of decadence. But still, understand that this was the first draft of this particular recipe’s existence, and therefore some of the choices made were…perhaps unwise.
As if any part of this process could be CALLED wise to begin with.
Again, the core of the recipe is easy: make a broth, toss in things at specific times, and serve hot. So what is in this magical broth? Mostly, vegetables. The broth starts as minced celery simmering in what feels like too much oil. Then comes chopped onions with bay leaves, oregano, and black pepper. Once the onion is soft, some red pepper flakes and garlic hit the stage, followed by what might be our first mistake in the recipe.
See, earlier I said that we were basically doubling the recipe. And that’s true. But that MAY have been in error. Specifically, in the amount of tomato we added. While the one recipe doubled the liquid of the other, it DIDN’T add anymore tomato. We did. And later, we found that the broth wasn’t particularly flavorful, despite consisting of white wine, seafood stock, herbs and flavoring galore. Which may have been because of the sheer amount of tomatoes we used. We may never know.
Oh look, there's lobster in the stock. So technically, there are SEVEN fish in this meal. How great for me.
Once you pour in your mighty mixture of liquids, you’re supposedly in the home stretch: you’ve already added half of the Cod, and there’s only around 13 minutes of cooking left, according to the recipe. This is because the recipe is a lying cunt. Okay, that’s too far. What I should say is that the recipe DELIBERATELY doesn’t put a time frame on the LONGEST part of the following process: bringing this shit to a low simmer. It waves its hand over that part like it’s something that will happen in but a few minutes, instead of the 15 minutes it actually took.
Technical Difficulties Ensue
Once you GET the pot simmering, you’re supposed to simmer for 1 minute, then cover and reduce to low, simmering for another 2. Don’t do that. Or at least, it was a bad idea for us: this is a big recipe, and our stove-top is pretty damn old. As in “was installed in the house in the late 70’s or early 80’s.” so it CANNOT keep this much soup bubbling when it’s dropped to low. (This MAY have also affected the previous step not reaching a simmer quickly enough.) I’d say aim for medium low.
After that 2 minute simmer, you take the lid off, and, by the recipe, never use it again, which is weird as shit, but we don’t have time to ask why, because now the rest of the cod, the clams, and the mussels are all diving in.
At least we have some contrasting colors now.
IN a sane world, THIS is when we’d cover the pot, as we simmer for 6 minutes. So we chose to, because fuck the rules, this is taking too long. After 6 minutes, you toss in your shrimp and scallops, to cook for 4 more minutes, at which point, you’re done! Except…None of these fucking mussels have opened. This is the stove’s fault, surely. Just cover it up, and wait another couple minutes…Hey, all the mussels submerged in the broth are open now! So it’s just that the top level’s too cold. Stir it up, cook another couple minutes…You know what, this feels about right. Toss out any clams or mussels that didn’t open. (Weirdly, ALL our clams did, but like, 4 mussels didn’t) and serve this soup of the sea hot with sourdough bread in honor of it being a San Francisco meal!
How is it? Well, as I said ealier, the broth is kind of underwhelming, probably because we used too much tomatoes and seafood stock (we doubled the doubled dose, rather than keep half a can lying around.), but maybe because we only physically added like, 1 tsp of salt to this huge pot of soup.
The seafood itself is…surprisingly tolerable. I mean, I’m not a great judge, but I didn’t gag when I ate the mussels or clams, which might honestly be the first time I’ve eaten mussels in my life. The scallops felt and tasted okay. The shrimp was SUPER over-cooked, but that’s the mussels’ fault.
See your seafood.
So in conclusion, it took too long, was frustrating and confusing, produced weak broth and over-cooked seafood, and made a LOT of it as well. That’s… AMAZING! THIS IS A TOTAL FUCKING CATASTROPHE! I mean, it’s still edible, but still, almost every component of this production went wrong in some capacity! I couldn’t have asked for a better 100th post.
The crab cakes, by contrast, were perfectly fine, and I served them with Bang Bang sauce from that other post, because it made sense to me, and it actually did work out.
And look: bread!
Man, what a ride. Thank you all for being a part of this crazy journey through 100 posts, and hopefully for 100 posts more. Today’s recipe may have been the most difficult for me to eat, but still, it was edible. And that’s part of what we try to teach here: just because things go bad, doesn’t mean they’re ruined. So go out, try something new, and fuck it right the hell up, my dudes.
We couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of our Patrons, who keep the cost of running the site down so Jon can run off and spend $100 on fish for these kind of bad ideas. If you’d like access to all the perks they enjoy, check us out on Patreon. Feel free to Like our Facebook page, share our posts, and generally spread the love, everybody!
THURSDAY: JON WON’T CLAM UP ABOUT CLAMS. LEARN THEIR CULINARY SECRETS, AND INTERESTING HISTORIES. DO EITHER OF THOSE THINGS EXIST? I DON’T KNOW, I HAVEN’T STARTED RESEARCHING THEM YET.
NEXT MONDAY: ALL THIS TALK OF TRAGEDY, HISTORY, AND ANCIENT DEBTS HAS JON IN AN…OPERATIC MOOD. LET’S TACKLE TURKEY TETRAZZINI! (I’LL EXPLAIN WHY THAT TRANSITION MAKES SENSE.)
A Mess of O’Guin Cioppino
Serves like, 8?
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
6 bay leaves
2 tbsp crumbled oregano
1 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, minced
ONE 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (This is me trying to correct the mistake of using 2.)
1 cup seafood stock
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1.5 pounds white fish fillet (cod or halibut will work fine), cut into steaks of roughly equal weight
1 pound clams, scrubbed and de-bearded
1 pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ pound scallops (we used tiny ones, because they weren’t $30 a goddamn pound)
1. Prepare the broth: heat the vegetable oil over medium heat until warm. Add celery, and cook 2 minutes. Add onion, oregano, bay leaves, and black pepper. Cook until onion is translucent, around 6 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, cook an additional 1 minute. Add all remaining broth ingredients, as well as half the white fish, and bring to a slow simmer (THIS WILL TAKE AT LEAST 10 MINUTES)
2. Once simmering, cook uncovered for 1 minute, then cover and cook for 2 more minutes.
3. Uncover, add the rest of the white fish, as well as the clams and mussels. Stir to incorporate, re-cover, and cook for 6 minutes. Add the shrimp and scallops, and cook an additional 4 minutes. Remove clams/mussels that haven’t opened (or cook a little longer, if you think your stove just sucks), and ladle into bowls, attempting to split the seafood fairly.