If you haven't been to Catalina Island — 22 miles out into the Pacific from the second most populous city in America and a mere 70-minute boat ride away — lately, you might consider it, particularly now that we're having another run of triple digit temperatures. Snorkeling. Parasailing. A night-time zip line. And, at the Avalon Grille, sandwiched between waffle shacks and ice cream shops, across the street from the beach: some very good food.

You can read about chef Paul Hancock's journey to get to that restaurant in today's food section, about what he's doing in the kitchen there, about his food, including his glorious cioppino. Or you can get on the boat and see for yourself. Or you could, after a nice read, go into your own kitchen and make the chef's wonderful seafood stew yourself.

chef Paul Hancock; Credit: A. Scattergood

chef Paul Hancock; Credit: A. Scattergood

Hancock's cioppino — the San Francisco version of French bouillabaisse — is a fairly simple construction, a spicy tomato-based soup in which seafood is briefly cooked. As is the custom of such stews, what seafood you use depends more on what you find at your fish market than what you find written in the recipe. Hancock's recipe calls for crab, halibut, prawns and mussels. The dish I ordered (twice) recently at the restaurant was made with salmon, mussels, prawns and clams.

Use what you like, and what looks the best at your market. You can also adjust the heat of the sauce. The recipe here is pleasantly spicy, with enough heat to make the dish interesting but not so much that it overwhelms the delicate flavors of the seafood. (My 14-year-old kid licked the plate, both times.) Do not forget a few slices of good quality bread, which you should grill or toast, as it's crucial to soak up the sauce. Don't forget the wine either; you can't drive on the island anyway. (See: Bill Murray and golf carts.)

cioppino at Avalon Grille; Credit: A. Scattergood

cioppino at Avalon Grille; Credit: A. Scattergood


From: Paul Hancock of Avalon Grille.

Note: Hancock changes the seafood he uses depending on what's in season; substitute accordingly, adjusting the amounts.

Makes: 4 servings.

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup butter

1 rib celery, chopped

1 onion, diced

1 16-oz. can crushed tomatoes

2 cups clam juice or fish stock

2 cups white wine

4 cloves crushed garlic

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Dungeness crab (about 2-lbs.), cracked and cleaned, or 1-lb frozen crabmeat thawed

2 pounds halibut fillet, cut into 2-inch cubes (Alaskan halibut is preferred)

24 large prawns, peeled and de-veined

12 mussels

1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped

1. In a large pot, on medium-low heat, melt the butter with the olive oil and saute the celery and onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the seafood and fresh parsley. Simmer on low, uncovered, for one hour. Add a splash of water if the sauce gets to thick. Taste for salt and adjust if needed.

2. Add the crab, shrimp, and halibut, and simmer covered another five minutes. Add the mussels, cover the pot and simmer for 3 minutes more, or until the mussels open. Turn off the heat, and stir in the Italian parsley.

3. Ladle the cioppino into large bowls and serve with lots of sourdough or ciabatta bread and red wine.

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