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updated: 1/31/2013 3:52 PM

Hot bowl of fish soup melts winter doldrums

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  • Cioppino is a fish stew that originated in the North Beach section of San Francisco.

      Cioppino is a fish stew that originated in the North Beach section of San Francisco.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer


I don't know about you, but February requires an extra bit of effort on my part in order to maintain even a semblance of good cheer.

Sure, "Downton Abbey" is back on the air and Valentine's Day sparks up the month -- especially when chocolate and flowers are involved. Spring is certainly around the corner and this winter hasn't really been that bad, all things considered.

Still, come February and my spirits need a little bolstering. The perfect antidote to my winter of discontent is a nice decadent bowl of cioppino with French bread and a glass of Pinot Noir. (You thought I was going to suggest a Chardonnay, didn't you? I don't think most white wines can stand up to the acidity of the tomatoes … but that's just me.)

Last year, I went to San Francisco and it was a real soupalooza experience. Everywhere I turned there was soup -- including a few places that specialized in nothing but soup.

Of course, you can't go to the City by the Bay without sampling cioppino, a fish stew that originated in the North Beach section of San Francisco. The story goes it was made by the fisherman right on the boat. They would chop up the catch of the day and turn it into soup. You can't get more fresh than that.

Ironically, however, my tried and true, favorite recipe for cioppino comes from Burhop's, a fantastic fish purveyor originally located in the Windy City. (You can now find Burhop's Seafood Stores in Wilmette, Hinsdale and Glenview. Check out for great fish recipes.)

As a matter of fact, I used to make Burhop's cioppino all the time, but I stopped when I almost killed my then 3-year-old niece one winter night. Turns out she is allergic to shrimp but no one knew it at the time. I thought I was serving poissons (French for fish). It turns out it was poison to my niece!

Regardless, this is a really great recipe, albeit a little expensive if you feel the need to follow the ingredients to the letter. The key to this soup's success is to get fish you like. If all you want is shrimp, then go for it.

Honestly, though, if you don't like something or feel it's too costly, leave it out or find a substitute. Although, I have to say it's always fun to watch the mussels open up in the hot broth.

The clam juice adds a nice dimension to the broth so don't skip that. Whatever you do, don't skimp on the wine. If it's not good enough to drink, it's not good enough to cook with, I always say. So pour yourself a nice glass of what's left in the bottle, warm up the French bread to dip into the soup and the winter blues will melt away, I promise.

• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation, and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at

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