Winter Comfort Food in the San Juan Islands

bowl of cioppino

Post by Samantha DeChristopher

The Pacific Northwest – especially around the San Juan Islands – is known for its abundance of fish, oysters, mussels, clams, and especially spot prawns. The Salish Sea brings a bounty of food to the islands year-round. You can find oysters from our local oyster farm Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. in Seattle markets, but they supply the islands with oysters and other shellfish as well.

When I think of quintessential winter meals on the islands, I think of a warming and comforting fish stew of some sort. A favorite in my family is Cioppino, an Italian seafood stew. It is great with crusty bread to dip in the broth or even with some pasta on the side. Cioppino is also great to feed a group of people and can feature all that the Salish Sea has to offer. I use local mussels, halibut, cod, and scallops in a tomato-based broth flavored with chili flakes, fennel, celery, and garlic and then mounted with butter. What could be more inviting?

Experiment with your favorite seafood! Talk to your local fisherman or even your friendly market worker for recommendations. There are no wrong choices for this stew. It is going to be delicious. We featured this dish on our pop up menu last week, and if you have access to a kitchen while you’re visiting this winter, make a stop at the Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. (open Saturdays) and see what’s fresh. Grab some crusty bread from Bakery San Juan and a bottle of cider from Madrone Cellars and you’ll be dining just like a local.

YIELD: 6-8 servings
Time: 1 hour


3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
¾ c onion, finely chopped
½ c sliced fennel
¼ c celery, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 c red wine
1 fifteen-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1½ c vegetable stock
4 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flat leaf parsley
2 pounds mussels
1 pound white fish (bass, halibut, cod, etc.) cubed into ½ inch pieces
½ pound scallops


In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add onion, fennel, celery, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is golden and fragrant, 1-2 minutes. You will be able to smell that garlic magic.

Add wine and cook until the wine has reduced, about 5-7 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, bay leaves, and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered for 30 minutes.

Remove lid and first add the mussels and/or clams if using. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Arrange the fish, clams, and butter on top of the stew, cover, and simmer until shellfish opens and fish and scallops are opaque, about 5 minutes more. Discard the bay leaves and stir in parsley.

Garnish with parsley leaves and serve with a side of crusty bread or pasta. Now it’s time to dig in and enjoy this delicious stew.

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