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. A low carb Bouillabaisse recipe or a Seafood Corn Chowder recipe are included on this website also.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
The Key to “Authentic” Cioppino, Bouillabaisse, or Seafood Chowder
There is really no “right way” to make these fish stews, but there are two keys to making all of these seafood stews “great”:
- A good fish stock
- 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.
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.
Best recipe for a Low Carb Bouillabaisse
Best Recipe for Seafood Corn Chowder
Best Recipe for Low Carb Cioppino:
West Coast Low Carb Cioppino
- Dutch oven Or large stockpot
- 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).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 lb mussels, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 1 lb whitefish, 1 lb. 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
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