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Cioppino vs. Bouillabaisse vs. Seafood Chowder: Low Carb Soups

Cioppino vs. Bouillabaisse vs. Seafood Chowder: Low Carb Soups
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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 the 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.

Bowl of bouillabaisse (or seafood stew)
Bowl of low-carb cioppino

Jump to: RECIPE | Cioppino Key Ingredients | Bouillabaisse Key Ingredients | Seafood Chowder Key Ingredients | Tips for Best Flavor

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Distinctions between Cioppino, Bouillabaisse, and Seafood Chowder


Cioppino is a homey seafood stew thought to have been 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, garlic, parsley, and basil.

Seafood and fish are an integral part of the Pesco Mediterranean Diet. This article will fill you in on the details of the Pesco Mediterranean Diet to see if it might be something you want to try.


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 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 and fish are an integral part of the Pesco Mediterranean Diet. This article will fill you in on the details of the Pesco Mediterranean Diet to see if it might be something you want to try.

Seafood Chowder

Much of the seafood in cioppino and bouillabaisse 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 a large bowl with a side of oyster crackers
Seafood corn chowder without shellfish

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 bouillabaisse.

The Key to “Authentic” Cioppino, Bouillabaisse, or Seafood Chowder

There is no “right way” to make these fish stews, but there are two keys to making all of these seafood stews taste “great”:

  1. A good fish stock
  2. Not overcooking the seafood 

Spices are negotiable and are all over the board, so the seasoning is going to vary according to regional or household preferences.

Can these seafood stews be made with frozen seafood?

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. I used frozen seafood in each of these stews and they turned out fantastic. Seafood these days is often flash-frozen right on the ship and can be a perfect alternative to fresh if you do not live in a coastal area where fresh seafood is readily available.

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

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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.
4.80 from 10 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
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 pound mussels can be frozen
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound whitefish (cod, snapper, sea bass, etc.), cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 pound 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).
    1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 5 garlic cloves, 3 cups clam juice, 26 ounces pasta sauce, 1/2 cup parsley, 1/2 teaspoon basil, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black 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!).
    1 pound mussels, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 1 pound whitefish, 1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, crab or other shell-fish, 2 lobster tails
  • Stir in spinach to the hot stew to soften, and serve with a crusty French Bread or other robust bread.
    2 cups fresh spinach


Additions or Substitutions:
Other ingredients often seen in cioppino include red wine, onions and garlic, parsley and basil.
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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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  1. Anonymous says:

    super post….super!

  2. Cyndy Crist says:

    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!

  3. Tig says:

    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!

    • 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.

  4. Nancy says:

    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.

  5. […]  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, […]

  6. Bob says:

    Sea food chowder recipe?

    • 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!

  7. Carmen says:

    I had bouillabaise on the Queen Mary & read loved it, SO, I looked up a recipe, close to yours. Great, but I cooked mine til the rice crisped. I don’t see
    the rice here.
    Did I do something wrong?
    It was crispy, 1-dish home-style, dinner,

    • Hi Carmen, I’m not familiar with serving rice with bouillabaise or seafood stews? The crisp rice is a standard in paella and I wonder if that is what you are thinking of. Take a look at this seafood paella and see if it is more along the lines of what you remember from the Queen Mary.

  8. Maria says:

    Corn & crab chowder has got to be my absolute Fall favorite!5 stars

  9. Carmen says:

    You’re right!
    I did make paella!
    I had Bouillabaisse on the Queen Mary. That’s the one that was so good. The recipe I used is the same as yours, except I added some “fish sauce”.

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