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Cioppino vs. Bouillabaisse vs. Seafood Chowder: A Comparison

Cioppino vs. Bouillabaisse vs. Seafood Chowder: A Comparison

If you don’t have access to fresh seafood, flash frozen seafood can stand in without a loss of flavor or texture. Frozen seafood works particularly well in the three “stews” below, which include recipes for cioppino, bouillabaisse and chowder.

Cioppino vs bouillabaisse
Cioppino vs bouillabaisse

Distinctions between Cioppino, Bouillabaisse and Seafood Chowder:


Ciopinno vs bouillabaisse vs fish chowder with recipes for each

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.


Ciopinno vs bouillabaisse vs fish chowder with recipes for each
Seafood Stew – Bouillabaisse

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.

Seafood Chowder

Ciopinno vs bouillabaisse vs fish chowder with recipes for each
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 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.

Bottom line

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


  1. 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).
  2. 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!)
  3. 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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)
  4. Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty, robust bread.

Also try this slightly different recipe for a Low Carb Bouillabaisse

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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Stir in spices while pot is still hot, and add flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes.
  4. 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.
  5. Add white fish, scallops, smoked salmon and reserved clams. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes or until seafood is done (do not overcook!).
  6. Stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper.  Serve hot with crusty french bread.
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.

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

Also, as an aside…..

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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.

Tuesday 29th of January 2013

super post....super!

dorothy stainbrook

Tuesday 29th of January 2013

Thank you Mr. or Ms. Anonymous!

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