Nonna Assunta Gaia's Crab Cioppino

This is a recipe given to my mom in the 1950s by my sister's Godfather who was a restaurant owner in San Francisco's North Beach. My family has eaten this for Christmas Eve for 50 plus years. It uses Dungeness Crabs---not sure if they're available anywhere besides the West Coast.

Nonna Assunta Gaia's Crab Cioppino


For 6 Person(s)


  • large LIVE Dungeness Crabs
  • 4 pounds cleaned raw large shrimp or prawns.
  • 6 pounds live manila clams--scrubbed and kept overnight in a bucket of salt water with a handful of cornmeal thrown in for them to feed on---this helps clean their systems of sand.
  • 4 pounds cleaned squid (optional)
  • 4 small cans tomato sauce or 2 large mason jars home canned tomatoes--pureed
  • 3/4 bunch parsley--chopped fine
  • 1 1/2 large yellow onions--chopped fine
  • 1 cup fresh garlic--chopped fine
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • salt to taste
  • also use mussels, any white meat fish, or scallops to make a total of 7 fishes.


  1. Dismember the crabs...avoiding their painfully strong claws. Be sure to include the 'body' along with the legs as there is a ton of meat in the "body." Remove the carapace (not an easy task) and scoop the contents into a bowl---this will be reddish and yellow in appearance and a combination of liquid and tissue. Discard the lungs---triangular shaped spongy organs alongside the sides of the body.
  2. Crack the legs with a mallet or nutcracker. Divide the body into fourths and rinse with water.
  3. In a large pot saute the onions in the olive oil until limp. Add the garlic and parsley and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.
  5. Add the saved contents of the crab carapace to the tomato mixture and simmer slowly for at least 1 hour. You can now add the pepper and stir well.
  6. After an hour or so, add the crab, stir well to coat with the tomato mixture and cook covered for 1/2 hour. Be sure to stir the pot frequently to prevent sticking or scorching.
  7. Add the squid if you're going to use it. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes-covered.
  8. Add the shrimp and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  9. Add the clams and stir well. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
  10. The cioppino is ready when the clams have opened up.
  11. Add salt to taste (sample the gravy).
  12. Serve with bibs, and lots of french bread to grab up the gravy.



Recipe Notes

I used to drive to Chinatown in San Francisco to buy the crabs but then discovered a large Asian supermarket chain called 99 Ranch Market that stocks tankfuls of live fish. I buy the crabs the day before making the meal and store them in the refrigerator. When I take them out, they are alive but sluggish due to the cold. As gross as it looks, the contents of the carapace are crucial to providing a lot of the flavor to the gravy. I've eaten variations of this recipe in Pisa and Riccione (my family's home town) using local fish and sometimes no crab at all. The flavors varied but all were delicious!

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