Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Dungeness Cioppino

Don’t feel too bad if you have no idea what the title of this entry could possibly mean. After all, not all of us have Italian and Portuguese roots, nor do we live in the San Francisco area. “Cioppino” is a tasty, tasty stew that’s sea-food based, and the one that Collin and Kai fixed last Thursday was based on the rather dramatic death of 15 Dungeness crabs.

The Tiura clan has an old house-recipe for what they swear is the best cioppino anywhere in the Bay Area, and I have no reason to doubt them. If you saw the love and affection that go into the preparation of this stew, you’d believe the claim without ever even tasting the meal. The morning had barely dawned when  Kai and his older brother started to line up the ingredients. There were three industrial sized cans of tomato puree and minced tomatoes, there were two bags of chopped onions that came from Costco and that were definitely to be used for institutionalized purposes, and there was that similarly sized bag of peeled garlic cloves. The pot that was going to swallow all this must have been big enough to feed an army of 30. Lovingly Collin added the majority of a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi Burgundy to the mixture, while Kai used a big wooden paddle to stir things up a bit.

There was love in the kitchen!

Of course, the main ingredient of this crab cioppino was still amiss, so we all piled into Collin’s car and took the round-about route to Daly City. Along the way we made sure that the owner of Creekside Smokehouse in Half Moon Bay hadn’t accidentally locked himself in his fish smoker. You know, things do happen…. The brothers had grown up next door, when the Smokehouse was still the post office. I heard some pretty wild tales from the past, and I doubted none.

Kai told me that we were heading for the 99 Market in Daly City since they have the best when it comes to fresh fish. He also told me it’d be quite a culture shock. Affirmative on both counts: I’ve never seen a better selection of marine foodstuffs under a roof than at 99 Market, a Chinese supermarket with the most exotic groceries you want to imagine. Look at those tanks crammed to the gills with Dungeness crabs; there were oyster beds (two dozen for $15); and fresh fish, fish heads, fish balls, fish intestines, fish whatever galore.
The Tiuras came prepared because this was no half-ass job. After all, this was going to be their first family cioppino in quite a while, so—after careful inspection and counting by the Chinese fishmonger—the 15 live crabs were carefully loaded into two ice chests that apparently had seen such service before. The scratching and clawing noises coming from behind the back seat on the way home assured us that those were healthy crabs, all right.

At some point it dawned on me that there was no way that these 15 crabs would fit together with the other ingredients into that puny little pot that was limited to no more than maybe 10 gallons of stew. I shouldn’t have worried: The brothers themselves had already done the math in their heads and scrambled for the BIG pot. Dude, it could have been used for half a battalion! Kai conservatively estimated that it holds about 50 gallons. As I said, these boys don’t do anything half-ass.

So while Kai busied himself with cleaning the oysters for their role as appetizers, Collin gave me a thorough in-service in regard to the fate of the crabs. Still clawing and grabbing at unsuspecting pinkies those suckers needed to be prepared to become the  main ingredient of the cioppino. “They really don’t like this,” Colin told me before he adeptly grabbed the carapace of the first crab and separated it from the rest of the body. No, I wouldn’t like it either if somebody simply tore off my back. So if you’re a dues-paying PETA member, well, you probably wouldn’t have approved. The crabs didn’t either, but sometimes it’s not about approval. And so, one after the other, 15 big ol’ Dungenesses met their fate. Collin showed me how to collect the “crab butter,” some weird yellowish fatty-like substance in the main body of the crab—I tell you, it looked like poop to me. Pretty gross, but apparently an essential part of the cioppino. Well, I wasn’t going to argue this point, either.

Here is a link to an educational video clips that I took of Collin massacring the Dungenesses:

Before long, legs, shells, claws, and the other worldly remains of the crabs were nicely laid out on the outdoor table. Oh, I did mention that all of this work required ample flushing with Sierra Nevada, right? Then all the parts were washed and rinsed in the kitchen sink, and Kai then performed the last rites by meticulously cracking what could be cracked so that we wouldn’t have to deal with that later on at the dinner table. I think at this point he regretted buying 15 crabs and not just a dozen since it was pretty darn cold out there and his fingers were about to freeze off. The video link shows you the clean-up act with some interesting comments by the two bros hovering around the kitchen sink:

The crabs were added to the pot, and out came the big paddle again. Innocently I asked how many guests we were expecting since there was enough food for a very extended family. Later on I counted about 10 of us.
Kai expertly barbecued the two dozen oysters, more Sierra Nevada was consumed, and then four big loaves of French bread were lovingly prepared and put in the oven.

The feasting was about to begin. We switched to Cab and Merlot (thankfully the Carlo Rossi was nowhere to be found), which went perfectly with the cioppino. Man, this was one good meal—but how could it not be after all the labor and love that had gone into it? We ate a lot, I mean a WHOLE lot, but there were enough leftovers so that no serious fights for the spoils ensued. Captain Morgan later helped us to digest properly, and I can only say that I have never had a family meal like this before. Thank you for an unforgettable evening!

Meanwhile I have traveled back home and am just a day away from hopping to Berlin. So, stay tuned. you may get a photo or two of a döner. Don't know what that is? Come back!



  1. Yeah, baby! This cioppino was the bomb, if I do say so myself. But then, Collin's cioppino is always top notch. But my point here, Jurgen, is that, after spending the night in the hot tub with Collin (your secret is safe with me ;) ) just how obvious is his shit disturber smile in the photo of us at 99 Ranch?

    He's always on it, and I'm pretty sure he was checkin' out a butt or thinking of a way to have a little fun.

    You tell me!

  2. By the way... The video link for the sink video says "private" and I cannot view it. Do some permissions need to be changed? I've never seen it...

  3. Cool!!! I'm glad I found out that video link was funky on the crab cleaning video 'cause after you fixed it I watched it and realized you took the great closeup on the stained glass fish I made. Great stuff!