Recently back from San Francisco, where fresh seafood is readily available (and wonderful), I thought I’d try to channel West Coast cuisine using the only kind of seafood available in our Minnesota winter — frozen. Thinking a stew would be the most forgiving of “fresh frozen” seafood, a question immediately arose regarding which kind of seafood stew….Cioppino, Bouillabaisse, or the ubiquitous Chowder?
After a little time exploring the nuances of each, I became seized up with indecision. So, I did what I often end up doing. I made all three and had the family taste test for “the best”. Results of this week of taste testing are at the end of this post. But first…
Distinctions between Cioppino, Bouillabaisse and Seafood Chowder:
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.
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.
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 chowder is you just need 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. 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.
There is really no “right way” to make these fish stews. What is most important is a good fish stock, a great tomato base and not overcooking the seafood. Spices are negotiable and are all over the board.
Recipe for Cioppino: Low Carb & Keto
(adapted from Mother’s Bistro and Bar in Portland, OR)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups clam juice
- 1 cup water
- 1 (26-ounce) bottle pasta sauce (compare ingredient list for sugar content)
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp fennel seed, ground
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 lb frozen mussels
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 lb whitefish, (cod, snapper, sea bass, etc.)
- 1 lb. uncooked medium shrimp
- crab or other shell-fish (optional)
- 2 lobster tails (optional)
- 2 cups torn spinach
- Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pepper flakes and garlic and saute quickly (about 30 seconds). Stir in clam juice and next six ingredients (clam juice through fennel). Cover and cook over low heat about 2 hours (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 and serve with a crusty French Bread or other robust bread.
Recipe for Bouillabaisse
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3 cups fennel, thinly sliced (about 1 bulb)
- 1 c. chopped onion
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 c. water
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp saffron threads
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 3/4 lb. small red potatoes, quartered
- 2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
- 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can tomato puree
- 1/2 lb. frozen mussels
- 1 lb. halibut (no skin), cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1/2 lb. large shrimp, uncooked
- 1/2 lb crab legs
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- Heat the oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sliced fennel, onion, thyme, and garlic and saute 5 minutes, or until tender.
- Add water and next six ingredients (water through tomato puree), and bring to a boil. Cook about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender enough to be pierced easily with a fork.
- Add the mussels and cook 2-3 minutes until they open. Add rest of seafood and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until seafood is done (do not overcook!)
- Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty, robust bread.
Recipe for Seafood Chowder:
- 1/2 to 1 lb. bacon, diced while raw
- 1 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1 1/2 cup diced carrot
- 1 1/2 cup diced celery
- 1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers, chopped
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp dill weed
- 1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder, or other hot pepper spice
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 c. light Ale, domestic honey ales are good
- 1 10-ounce can baby clams, reserve the juice
- 2 8-ounce bottles clam juice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups diced potatoes, peeled and scrubbed
- 1/4 lb. firm white fish (snapper, cod, catfish)
- 1/2 lb. bay scallops
- 1/4 lb. smoked salmon, slightly shredded
- crab legs (optional, I had some left over so I threw them in)
- 1 c. heavy cream
- In a Dutch oven cook the bacon over med-low heat until it is brown. Remove the bacon and set aside. Drain some of the grease until there is about 2 Tbsp grease left in the pot.
- Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook over medium heat until carrots are tender (carrots, celery and onions should be amount the same size dice – this is your mire poix). Add the red peppers.
- Stir in spices while pot is still hot, and add flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes.
- Add the beer (ale), the reserved juice from the clams, and the bottled clam juice. Stir well and then add the wine, the potatoes and the reserved bacon. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are crisp but tender.
- Add white fish, scallops, smoked salmon and reserved clams. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes or until seafood is done (do not overcook!).
- Stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with crusty french bread.
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.
Oh, and the family’s winning stew was the cioppino. Must be the mid-west tomatoes.
If you are interested in our Good Food Awards winner, it was Raspberry Chambord this year. Find our preserves and sauces at HeathGlen.com
Also, as an aside…..
Online Coaching Available:
I have followed the slow carb diet for 3 years and the keto diet for 2 years now, and I have put my “been there done that” knowledge to work helping people figure it out. I am currently an online diet coach (info can be found here if you’re interested), and have just hit the 250-client mark. Come and visit me and see if online coaching might be for you!
If not for diet, there are other coaches on the site that coach anything from writing a blog, to getting up early, to getting rid of that pesky procrastination. Explore the site while you are there. There are some wonderful coaches and the testimonials will tell you what you need to know. Click here to get to my profile and then explore others from there.