People and Food: Chicken Cioppino

A galley-friendly take on a San Francisco treat

chicken image
Chicken CioppinoLynda Morris Childress

One thing all cruising cooks learn as they go is this: Flexibility is called for, especially when required ingredients are not always available. There is nothing my husband, Bob, and I love more than a big bowl of seafood stew on a foggy night at anchor, when the mist calls to mind San Francisco – the city renowned not only for its fog, but for its unique rendition of an Italian fisherman's stew called cioppino. Alas, not always do we have access to all the shellfish needed to make this dish. At such times, I fall back on a recipe I discovered when we were newlyweds back in 1980, sailing our J/24 every available weekend in Sandy Hook Bay, New Jersey.

This mock "cioppino" is much easier on the galley budget and, even when made with chicken, it delivers all the taste and aromas of a bouillabaisse. It's simple to prepare, impressive in both taste and appearance, and it's ready in about an hour. Decades later, I'm still making both the chicken and shellfish versions of cioppino aboard Scaramouche, our Tayana 58.

An added bonus: Made with boneless chicken thighs, this also makes an outstanding “make-ahead-and-freeze” meal for offshore passages. Serves two to three, depending on appetite and side (bread only or pasta/rice).

Chicken Cioppino

  • 4 large pieces chicken (2 thighs and 2 legs), skin on (about 1.75 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh, ripe tomatoes, diced, OR
  • 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped and well-drained
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (or a splash more, to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (or a few sprigs fresh)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt*
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 two-inch strips orange peel
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped

*if using salted chicken broth, salt to taste as needed

In a large pot, lightly brown chicken pieces on both sides in oil. Set aside. Add chopped onion to the pot and sauté until just translucent, then add the garlic and cook another minute. Stir in well-drained tomatoes. (Important: The trick is to keep the tomato liquid to a minimum so it doesn’t become soupy; you’re shooting for a stewlike thickness). Simmer to evaporate any liquid. Next, stir in the wine, chicken broth, herbs, salt and pepper, and add the orange peel strips. Place chicken pieces back in pot (sauce will not completely cover chicken), cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Before serving, stir in the fresh parsley. Serve with either a loaf of crusty bread or over rice, egg noodles, or tagliatelle. Serves two.

Preparation: At anchor & underway
Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy

Cook's Notes: This basic recipe can also be used for seafood cioppino. Just substitute about 1 3/4 pounds of any combo of shellfish (or fish and shellfish) for the chicken, and shorten simmering time to about 5 to 10 minutes, or until seafood is cooked. Hint: Do not skip or substitute fennel seed or orange peel — they're key to both the unique taste and appearance of this delicious, semithick gravy. To increase number of servings to four, double ingredient quantities.