Grandpa Lauro’s Cioppino

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As a kid I worked at El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla, CA, which is where I met Lauro Saraspe for the first time. Lauro would come in through the backdoor, a bear of a man standing in the 6’4″ range, he’d wrangle in swordfish and lay it on the ground and begin to ice down the giant animal.  Once his duties were done, he’d help himself to a big bowl of our Cioppino, as you can imagine after hundreds of bowls of Cioppino he knows a thing or two about it.  Since those days, I’ve had the privilege of trying Lauro’s personal Cioppino recipe and it does not disappoint, a treat on these cooler fall days going into the Holidays.  Tanner Saraspe is Lauro’s granddaughter, and now runs the family business at Saraspe Seafoods we are lucky enough to have her share his epic recipe with us.

Grandpa Lauro’s Cioppino as explained by Tanner Saraspe

This classic fish stew is an excellent way to utilize the whole fish. With spiny lobsters, mussels, and clams, it makes for the perfect Holiday dish. Once done, you can leave simmering until ready to serve. It also freezes well.


Ready in 2 hours, makes 4-6 servings

• 2 tablespoons butter

• 2 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 onion, diced

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 1 (1-2 pound) whole rockfish or sculpin, gilled and gutted

• 2 bay leaves

• 2 liters room temperature filtered water

• 1 pound small new potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes

• 4 carrots, peeled and sliced into ½-inch rounds

• 3 stalks celery, sliced into ½-inch pieces

• 1 (28.2-ounce) can crushed or chunked tomatoes

• 2 whole California spiny lobsters

• 2 pounds mussels

• 2 pounds clams

• 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish

STEP 1 In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter together over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic, and cook for another minute or two, taking care not to burn the garlic.

STEP 2 Set the whole fish in the pan along with bay leaves and the water. Bring just to a bare boil before reducing to a simmer. Skim any scum that rises to the surface of the pot. Leave stock to simmer for 20-25 minutes. Carefully remove the fish from the liquid using tongs or a large spoon. Leave fish to cool slightly before carefully removing flesh from the bones. Set the flesh aside and discard the bones and head.

STEP 3 Place prepped vegetables into the stock along with the canned tomatoes, and stir to combine. Bring liquid up to a bare boil before reducing heat to the lowest simmer. Simmer until vegetables are soft, about 30-45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

STEP 4 While the vegetables cook, prepare the lobsters. Tail the lobsters using this simple method. Remove innards from lobster heads and gently rinse heads under the sink. Use a sharp chef’s knife to halve the head portions and cut the tail portions into 2-inch chunks.

STEP 5 Add the prepared lobster to the soup 20-25 minutes before serving. Add the mussels and clams 10 minutes before serving. Return the flaked rockfish or sculpin to the pot. Cook just until the clams and mussels are open. Finish with chopped parsley. Serve Cioppino with garlic-scratched bread or a fresh baguette.

Lauro in his heyday when yellowtail were a pleasant bycatch of any fishing outing and when lobsters were held with two hands.


Bubba knife set diagram

A special thank you to Tanner Saraspe and Nicole Litvack from Saraspe Seafoods for sharing their wealth of knowledge and recipes. To learn more about our local San Diego Fishery and Products visit: