In each calendar year, I give myself a few days to eat with wanton disregard for my personal health. Thanksgiving is one of those days. The day we take the kids to the state fair is another. But, my favorite day of pure gluttony is Super Bowl Sunday.
In what has become a tradition in my house, we invite a large group of friends over to party and watch the game. We cover the basement floor with sheets and let the kids loose to drop food with abandon.
We usually have typical football party fare – my Sriracha wings, various dips and beer. However, we also offer foods that represent the cities from the two teams competing in the big game. This is not always easy. For example, in 2010 the New Orleans Saints, representing a city with one of the most storied food cultures in America, took on the Indianapolis Colts, a city famous for, well, corn.
This year, the Baltimore Ravens will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. While both boast legendary food cultures, they could not be more different. San Francisco embodies healthful eating, fresh produce and sips from America’s wine country. Baltimore brings a more blue-collar style of eating: blue crabs, pit beef and National “Natty Boh” Bohemian beer. That’s not to say that San Francisco is only plates of figs and microgreens. With abundant seafood – including the tasty Dungeness crab – and a melting pot of ethnicities, San Francisco has no shortage of options for partying.
This year, I’m going to serve an iconic dish from each city, and make them a little easier to serve for the Super Bowl party.
Let’s start with San Francisco. If you invite enough people over, chances are someone is going to be the wet blanket who wants to eat healthfully. While I discourage this on Super Bowl Sunday, it might not be a bad idea to have a nice green salad on hand to help cut all the grease and calories that you’ll be ingesting throughout the day. Easy. Roast some beets, crumble some goat cheese and call it “San Francisco Farmers Market Salad.”
With so many different food cultures, it’s tough to identify the one typical San Francisco dish. Cioppino, though, definitely belongs on the list. The spicy tomato-based stew showcases the fabulous seafood available in the Bay Area. As you’d guess from its name, cioppino has Italian roots.
In his collection of essays, “Pot on the Fire,” John Thorne writes about a 1921 seafood cookbook that gave him insight into the dish.
“Fish Cookery” — by Evelene Spencer, the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries’ fish cookery expert, and John N. Cobb, director of the University of Washington’s College of Fisheries — quotes a 1917 issue of California Fish and Game in what Thorne says must be one of the earliest printed descriptions of cioppino:
“The cioppino … is one of the simplest, healthiest and cheapest ways of cooking fish. Originated by Italians, it is cooked and eaten by them almost exclusively. Cioppino is a great dish among the fishermen, some practically living on it because of its healthfulness and muscle-building qualities, and the ease with which it is prepared. When fishermen are out on trips for days at a time, the only supplies that are taken are bread, wine, a little coffee and the ingredients that are used to make up a cioppino. …”
The Spencer-Cobb book also contains several recipes calling for whale meat, including one for whale pot roast and another for whale curry.
“Americans were much more adventurous in their tastes for seafood 75 years ago,” writes Thorne, “when regional tastes remained strong and certain species had not yet become endangered.”
Cioppino varies with the day’s catch — today as well as 100 years ago. Thorne quotes from California Fish and Game: “Sometimes it is what one might call fancy – shellfish, celery, parsley, wine, etc., being used in its preparation. But the kind generally prepared by the fisher folk is very simple and inexpensive, the olive oil used being the most expensive ingredient.”
Times, of course, have changed. Fish and shellfish are neither as plentiful nor as inexpensive as they were in 1917.
The beauty of this dish is that it is hard to make incorrectly. Every recipe I’ve looked at is different. I’m serving one that is easy to assemble, requires little attention and is simple to serve. Many recipes from San Francisco involve Dungeness crab, which is readily available there. Feel free to add it if you can track some down.
After the game, serve Irish coffee using the famous recipe from San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café.
Back East, as they say out West, Baltimore also boasts an impressive seafood bounty. The blue crabs of Maryland represent a way of life to the state. The slightly salty waters of the Chesapeake Bay provide an ideal environment for blue crabs to grow in abundance. While a big pile of steamed crabs may be the dish that represents Baltimore at its best, it’s not ideal to host a crab party in your house to watch the Super Bowl. Best to have a crab party outside to prevent having to clean shell shrapnel out of your carpet. However, you can always make a nice crab dip.
Or try Baltimore coddies – cod and potato cakes – if you need to fry something.
If you are brave enough to fire up the grill in winter, you can make pit beef, Maryland’s version of barbecue (although take care not to call it barbecue). It’s heavily seasoned roast beef that is grilled to your desired doneness (usually rare), sliced thinly and served on a kaiser roll with raw onions and horseradish sauce. Pit beef shacks dot most roads that you travel throughout Baltimore, but there are some iconic landmarks, such as Pioneer and Chaps, which actually shares its parking lot with a strip club.
There’s no better way to finish any meal honoring Baltimore than with a Berger cookie, the cake-bottomed, fudge-topped cookie that has been a city favorite for nearly 200 years.
With the foods of these two cities, there’s no way to make a bad pass. Go team.
It’s easy to reproduce pit beef at home with your backyard grill. Just make sure to give the meat lots of time to marinate. For a Super Bowl party, serve pit beef on mini buns to make sliders.
- For Rub
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- For Sandwich
- 3-pound piece top round
- 16 small buns or dinner rolls
- Horseradish sauce (recipe below)
- 1 sweet white onion, sliced thin
- For Horseradish Sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup prepared white horseradish
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Salt and black pepper to taste.
In a bowl, combine ingredients for the rub and mix well. Season beef with the rub and pat it in. Place in a large container, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. If you have time to let it sit longer, even better. Don’t let it sit longer than 3 days.
In a bowl, combine ingredients for horseradish sauce and whisk to mix. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Get grill nice and hot. Grill the beef 30 to 40 minutes. You want a nice charred crust on the outside with the internal temperature reading 120 degrees for rare. Trust me. You’ll want it rare. Let it rest for 10 minutes and then slice it as thinly as you can. Assemble onto rolls and slather with horseradish sauce and top with onions.
Cioppino is a fish-of-the-day stew that originated in San Francisco's Italian community. Use this recipe as a guide but feel free to use whatever fish or shellfish you find or fancy and vary other ingredients at will.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 medium-sized head of fennel, thinly sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 (28- to 32-ounces) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 1 cup chicken broth or water
- 18 small littleneck clams, scrubbed clean
- 18 mussels, scrubbed clean and debearded
- 1 pound skinless white fish, such as cod or hake, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 pound sea scallops, tough muscle removed from side of each if necessary
- Several dashes hot sauce, if desired
- Crusty, toasted bread
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook garlic, onions, fennel, bay leaf, oregano and red pepper flakes until onions and fennel have softened. Season with salt and pepper. Add white wine and cook until reduced by half.
Add tomatoes, clam juice and broth and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. (You may want to prepare up to this point, then wait until guests are ready to eat to add the seafood which cooks quickly.)
Add mussels and clams to the stew and cover the pot. Cook about 7 minutes, or until shells pop open. Discard any shellfish that do not open. Add the rest of the seafood and cook 5-7 minutes, or until cooked through.
If using, add hot sauce and stir to incorporate. Serve in bowls with toasted bread, preferably a San Francisco-style sourdough.