If you didn't already know it, Cioppino is sort of a tomato-based bouillabaise, made famous 160 years ago at the San Francisco restaurant Tadich Grill. It is still Tadich's signature dish. You can find Tadich's recipe online, and you can even find a video that will show you how to make it.
Tadich's recipe is terrific. Worth the trouble if you have the time (takes about 5 hours) and the money. Tadich uses fresh dungeness crab, scallops and halibut, all of which cost upwards of $20/lb these days. The recipe I devised is not as good as Tadich's, but it is tasty, fast and inexpensive.
Instead of using fresh tomatoes and cooking them for a loing time. I use canned tomatos, specifically the Italian kind bearing the designation V.O.P. which are the very best canned tomatoes you can buy. Costco sells them for around $2 for a 28-oz can. They are also available in almost any market, but you will pay closer to $5/can.
My recipe calls for bottled clam juice, but you can also use chicken stock. It is cheaper and still quite good. The recipe also calls for red pepper flakes to be cooked into the sauce. I can't use them because my wife cannot take any heat. Instead I sprinkle tobasco sauce into my serving.
To save money, you can buy frozen mixed seafood at Trader Joes and other markets. This is generally a combination of shrimp, bay scallops, mussels, and calamari rings. You can get it for less than $7/lb. You can also buy frozen fish pieces, usually Alaskan cod, for less than $4/lb. In any event, the choice of seafood is yours. Just don't use a fish that will fall apart easily such as dover sole. You want it to hold together.
Dungeness crab, native to San Francisco waters, is the best (and most traditional) seafood for this dish in my opinion, but you have to keep it in the shell or it will disintegrate. That makes for very messy eating. I don't mind that, but many people do. In any event, try this out. You'll be glad you did.
I always serve this with garlic bread and a real Caesar salad. Bring the pot of cioppino to the table with a ladle and let everyone help themselves.
1/4 Cup EVOO
1 Onion, finely chopped
1 Small head of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 Cup White wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Bottle of Clam Juice
1 28-oz can of V.O.P. tomatoes
1 Cup Water
1 Bay leaves
1/2 Cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 Tsp Red pepper flakes
Enough seafood to serve 4 people
In a Dutch oven or large sauté pan, sauté the onion and garlic in the EVOO for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add the wine and boil for 2 minutes. Add clam juice and the full contents of the tomato can. Mash the tomatoes with your hands or a wooden spatula. Add remaining ingredients except seafood, adjust seasoning and simmer for 20 minutes.
Throw in the defrosted seafood and cook for about 5 minutes. Depending on what seafood you use, you may want to add it in stages so that nothing gets overcooked. You can also sauté the seafood separately for a few minutes in more EVOO or butter (a la Tadich) before adding it to the sauce.