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Cioppino vs. Bouillabaisse vs. Seafood Chowder: A Comparison

Cioppino vs. Bouillabaisse vs. Seafood Chowder: A Comparison
Home » Recipes by Ingredients » Fish and Seafood » Cioppino and bouillabaisse recipes

Cioppino, Bouillabaisse and seafood chowders are three “seafood stews” that are often confused, as they are quite similar in ingredients and cooking methods. There are some nuanced differences however, mostly around type of fish used and several regionally-based distinctions. If you don’t have access to fresh seafood, flash frozen seafood can stand in without a loss of flavor or texture. The Cioppino recipe is in the recipe card below. See this post for the bouillabaisse recipe and this post for the chowder recipe.

Table of Contents: Cioppino Recipe | Comparisons of the 3 Stews

Bowl of bouillabaisse (or seafood stew)
Bowl of cioppino

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Distinctions between Cioppino, Bouillabaisse and Seafood Chowder:


Cioppino is a homey seafood stew thought to be created by West Coast (specifically San Francisco) Italian immigrants, with a rich tomato base as its primary broth. 

The seafood that goes into cioppino generally has a regional focus, integrating ingredients like Dungeness Crab in San Francisco or lobster in Maine. 

Particular seafood ingredients tend to be the “catch of the day”,  but one thing is certain…cioppino includes a massive amount of fish.  And, while the type of fish on any given day might include mussels, clams, crab legs, scallops, halibut, or shrimp, the addition of some form of firm-fleshed white fish is a constant. 

Other ingredients often seen in cioppino include red wine, onions and garlic, parsley and basil.


Low Carb French Bouillabaisse Stew
Low Carb French Bouillabaisse Stew

Bouillabaisse is a hearty French fish stew, similar to cioppino but further characterized by the addition of saffron. 

The broth is also a distinguishing factor between cioppino and bouillabaisse.  While cioppino has a true tomato base, bouillabaisse has a white (fish stock) base with some tomatoes thrown in. 

To get really technical, an “authentic” bouillabaisse cannot be made outside of Provence because it must include Provence’s indigenous scorpion fish.  In the states, a snapper or sea bass is frequently used as a substitute for scorpion fish. 

Other ingredients often seen in a bouillabaisse include white wine, potatoes, fennel and orange peel.

This recipe for a French Bouillabaisse stew is excellent, low carb and not difficult to make.

Seafood Chowder

Bowl of seafood chowder
Bowl of seafood chowder

Much of the seafood in cioppino and bouillabaise is served in the shell, requiring special utensils (i.e., crab cracker, bibs).  The beauty of a seafood chowder is that it is often made with whitefish instead of shellfish, requiring only a large spoon and a chunk of good crusty bread to sop up the broth. 

Often a seafood chowder will include heavy cream in the broth along with the fish stock, and almost always, a chowder will include potatoes. 

Seafood corn chowder in white bowl with side of oyster crackers.
Seafood Corn Chowder

The type of seafood included in a chowder is the cook’s choice, but you see smoked salmon more frequently in a chowder than in a cioppino or bouillabaise.

“Authentic” Fish Stews

There is really no “right way” to make these fish stews.  What is most important is a good stock and not overcooking the seafood.  Spices are negotiable and are all over the board.

Ferry Bldg. market in San Francisco after Good Food Awards
The husband at Ferry Bldg. market in San Francisco after Good Food Awards

Well, that about does it.  Here in the Midwest we have a lot of great food to be thankful for, but fresh seafood is something I truly miss from my early days growing up in Oregon. 

Although these recipes were all made with frozen seafood, I have to say they were pretty tasty and not far removed from what I remember.

 Best recipe for a Low Carb Bouillabaisse

Best Recipe for Seafood Chowder

Best Recipe for Cioppino (recipe below)

West Coast Low Carb Cioppino

Bowl of West Coast Cioppino
This recipe for an equisite cioppino is slightly adapted from a dish served at a popular West Coast restaurant called Mothers’ Bistro. It is made with prepared pasta sauce and can be made with fresh seafood or quality flash-frozen seafood.
4.60 from 5 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Servings 4
Calories 424


  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
  • 3 cups clam juice can be bottled clam juice
  • 26 Ounces pasta sauce pre-made (compare nutritional label for sugar content)
  • ½ cup parsley finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon basil chopped, can be omitted if not fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seed freshly ground
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 lb mussels can be frozen
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 lb whitefish (cod, snapper, sea bass, etc.), cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 lb. uncooked medium shrimp
  • crab or other shell-fish optional
  • 2 lobster tails optional
  • 2 cups fresh spinach torn into large pieces


  • Heat oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium-high heat. Add pepper flakes and garlic and saute quickly (about 30 seconds). Stir in clam juice to deglaze and add next seven ingredients (pasta sauce through salt & pepper).
  • Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer over low heat (taste for desired depth of flavor to determine when to stop simmering – it can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours).
  • Add mussels. Cover and cook over medium heat about 4- 5 minutes, or until shells open (discard any unopened shells). Add wine and rest of fish and simmer 5 minutes or until fish is done (do not overcook!)
  • Stir in spinach to the hot stew to soften, and serve with a crusty French Bread or other robust bread.


Calories: 424kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 49gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 216mgSodium: 1829mgPotassium: 1380mgFiber: 4gSugar: 11gVitamin A: 3583IUVitamin C: 44mgCalcium: 151mgIron: 5mg
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Recipe Rating

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Monday 25th of July 2022

Sea food chowder recipe?

dorothy stainbrook

Tuesday 26th of July 2022

Yeah, google only likes us food bloggers to do one recipe card per post. I’ll try and round up the seafood chowder recipe I used to have on this post and add it in the comments here. Sorry about that!

German Chocolate Cake via David Lebovitz | Farm to Jar FoodFarm to Jar Food

Wednesday 18th of June 2014

[…]  Well, the cioppino was easy because I had a go-to recipe that was great and worked every time (see recipe here), but the cake was a little more intimidating.  I don’t bake that much and as I recalled, […]


Thursday 5th of September 2013

Thank you for explaining the difference between these similar soups. You confirmed how I have always explained it. I have been making bouillabaisse at Christmas for years.

dorothy stainbrook

Thursday 5th of September 2013

You bet Nancy! They are all really wonderful aren't they. Our favorite around here is the ciopinno.


Tuesday 19th of February 2013

Lovely post! We too came back from San Fran with a longing for Ciopinno! Quick question, in the Ciopoinno recipe you preheat the oven, but as the recipe continues I can't tell what is supposed to go in the oven. Could you explain that for me. Thanks!

dorothy stainbrook

Tuesday 19th of February 2013

Thank you for catching that confusing direction! My original recipe included making some crostini with French Bread (sliced and baked for 15 min at 350), to accompany the Cioppino. I forgot to take that direction out, so I will update it. Just ignore it, unless you want to put some bread in the oven towards the end of the Cioppino's time.

Cyndy Crist

Monday 4th of February 2013

Dorothy -- You inspired me to make bouillabaisse this past week-end. I used a Mark Bittman recipe from his cooking app (which I probably use as much as all my other cooking apps combined) as the foundation but with a few changes. I had less fish and seafood on hand than he called for (the problem with deciding in general what one wants to make before consulting recipes!) so substituted some fish stock from the freezer and a bottle of clam juice for the water called for in his recipe. I frankly thought the fish (fresh line-caught Alaskan cod) and seafood (fresh clams and a frozen mix of scallops, calamari, and shrimp) was sufficient, even though I used about half the amount called for in the recipe, and the flavor was terrific. I also splashed in a little Pernod near the end to heighten the anise/fennel flavor. It was yummy!

dorothy stainbrook

Monday 4th of February 2013

M-m-m Pernod splash sounds great! I'm sure fresh seafood is always best, but I was surprised at the quality of frozen seafood you can get in the store.

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