Cacciucco, pronounced “kah-CHOO-kho,” is a type of fish stew, or soup, found in the Tuscany region of Italy and particularly associated with the port city of Livorno. The stew originated as an everyday dish of the fishermen of that area and, as such, was made with the smallest, cheapest fish left from each daily catch. Tradition holds that cacciucco must be made with five kinds of fish, one for each “c” in the name, but most versions include more types of fish than that. In addition to the fish, the dish includes a tomato-based broth, typical regional seasoning and, usually, wine or vinegar. It has now become a regional signature dish, featured in a wide variety of restaurants both in Italy and abroad.
The most common version is cacciucco alla Livornese, based on the style made in Livorno, which includes shellfish and fish on the bone. Cacciucco di Viareggina is similar but includes no shellfish, and the fish is in boneless chunks. Both normally are served with a slice of dry or toasted bread in the bottom of the bowl.
Because the soup began as a working man’s meal, it is hearty and filling. The traditional fish choices are those that were least likely to be sold, either because they were very common or are unattractive or particularly bony. Common varieties included black scorpionfish, Atlantic stargazer, weeverfish, tub gurnard and dogfish. Traditional cacciucco often included octopus and sometimes squid or mantis prawns.
The broth includes both olive oil and either vinegar or dry white wine, as well as typical regional seasonings including onion, garlic, basil, fennel and thyme. Recipes sometimes call for red instead of white wine. Tomato has been included since the end of the 1800s. Modern recipes usually also include chili powder.
As the soup became a restaurant dish it began to include more expensive types of fish. Modern recipes usually call for shrimp, mussels and prawns. Bony fish choices have expanded and include a huge range of whatever is available fresh, including not only the traditional choices but also hake, mullet, catfish, sole, eels and much more.
The traditional cooking pot for cacciucco was terracotta, which spreads the heat and aids with slow, gentle cooking. Even in metal pots, the soup should not reach a hard boil. It is still customary to serve it with a slice of toasted or stale bread in the bottom of the bowl.