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Cioppino Ala Helen: A Seafood Delight from Grandma’s Kitchen

Hi friends! Welcome back to Whatcheescooking, the monthly culinary klatch where I share the recipes, tips, and tricks to bring restaurant-quality meals from my family’s table to yours. Happy beach season, guys!! Summertime means soaking up all those rays and hitting the coast, eating ALL the seafood, and spending time with the family. My little family loves going to the shore, and we have no shame in our seafood-loving game! 

I fondly remember going clam digging with my dad and baby seester at Copalis Beach, getting up DREADFULLY early to drive from his home in Adna to the coast. When we arrived, it was my first time seeing the ocean. Not Puget Sound, but the actual PACIFIC OCEAN. It was amazing and completely blew my mind. I fell in love with it right then and there. 

Whenever I think of cooking or eating seafood, it reminds me of that time, and of my dadder. On the coast, you can find a bounty of fresh seafood and fish to use, but here in the beautiful Inland Northwest, we have Fisherman’s Market in Coeur d’ Alene! If you haven’t been, go check it out! They have a super fresh, really great selection and a delicious in-house menu. It’s a perfect place to grab lunch after a dip in the lake. 

This month, I want to share with you a very special, beautiful family recipe from my Dadder’s mom, my Grandma Helen. My grandma Helen was known for being a wonderful cook, and I’ve been fortunate to come in possession of a few of her recipes over the years.

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This one is different. It’s special. My mom would speak very fondly of it every Christmas, my father spoke of it lovingly every so often, almost like something of a familial legend. Over the years, it became something I HAD to learn—my grandmother’s cioppino. 

Cioppino is an Italian American stew made with a medley of seafood, and cooked in a rich tomato and wine broth, perfectly capturing the sea’s flavors. It’s a lighter alternative to your creamy seafood and clam chowders, and there are a ton of variations. I loved getting to share this with my family by the sea, and now with you all here. This is Cioppino ala Helen

Cioppino Ala Helen

Serves 4-6

Cioppino Ala Helen Ingredients List

  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 medium or 2 small shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large can of stewed and diced tomatoes
  • 2 bunches spinach, washed and trimmed
  • 3 lemons, sliced
  • 1 quart of tomato juice or V8 (I use Spicy V8…it’s DELISH!)
  • 1.5 cups dry white wine (Make sure to use a quality you would want to drink…bonus? A glass of wine for the chef!)
  • 1 lb. firm white fish, cut into about 1 ½” cubes
  • 1 lb. Manila or Littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed
  • 1 lb. Mussels, rinsed and scrubbed (My grandmother’s recipe calls for crab, but I found beautiful mussels at Fisherman’s Market and HAD to use them!)
  • 1 lb. deveined and peeled prawns
  • 1 ½ tsp cracked red pepper flakes
  • Fresh parsley to finish dish
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Baguette or rustic bread for dipping/dunking/devouring

*Pro Tip: When using fresh clams and mussels in dishes, make sure to leave them open air to breathe. They’re still alive when you purchase them, so leaving the bag open to air allows them to stay alive until you’re ready to cook. This is why most bivalves are sold in mesh bags. 


1: Once you’ve gathered all the ingredients and prepped, place a large pot over medium-low heat and add a couple TBSP of your cooking oil of choice. 

2: Add the shallot and a couple of cloves of garlic to the oil and begin to sauté. Sauté until the shallots begin to turn transparent. Be careful not to burn the garlic, or it can taste super bitter…ick.

3: In your large pot, add ⅓ of the can of tomatoes, wine, and tomato juice, then place several mussels and clams, along with a handful of shrimp. Cover with a good amount of spinach. Scatter a few lemon slices on top of the spinach. Season with a pinch of salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper.

4: Repeat until all ingredients have been added, ending with the spinach layer. Add the whitefish, which has been cubed into 1 ½” inch pieces. 

5: Cover and cook on a low simmer until the heat reaches the top and the fish is done. The mix can be GENTLY stirred with a wooden spoon to help heat the top layers. We don’t want to break up the whitefish too much as we stir. 

6: I’ve said it many times, but make sure to taste the broth for seasoning before you serve. It’s a total bummer to be served a gorgeous dish only to discover it’s under-seasoned.  Finish with fresh parsley. 

Serve in lovely deep bowls, and make sure to provide small plates or bowls for all those shells.

My dadder recommends:

“This dish is well paired with a green salad, jello and lots of garlic bread for dunking…and you just can’t go wrong with an additional glass of wine!” 

I served it alongside a Caesar salad, because my family are total Caesar salad fiends. We THOROUGHLY enjoyed this beautiful cioppino with a very large slab (each…ha!) of crusty bread for dunking and soaking up all those gorgeous flavors from the bottom of the bowl. The view wasn’t too shabby, either. 

Kim Lehr

Kim Lehr is a bar/restaurant industry veteran who owns The Accompaniment Co. and is obsessed with all things pickled. Most importantly? She’s a wife and mom who wants to feed her family more healthful, wholesome, flavorful, and creative meals. Join her to share some of those meals and her small batch, local products with your family’s table.

read all of kim’s articles here.

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