I know y’all are going to tell me cioppino is a California seaside wharf recipe, created by fishermen on the dock after unloading and selling their catch. All of that is true and yes, they teamed together and put their leftover fish, bivalves, shrimp, crabs, calamari and more in a large pot with water, a few spices, some butter or oil, onion, garlic and tomatoes and often a splash or two or three of wine or beer. They cooked it on the dock and ate it with famous sourdough bread which sopped up the broth in the bowl, or sometimes they used a loaf of sourdough bread as a bowl and ate the cioppino in the bread bowl. All of that is wonderful and several years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to experience this dish first hand. We made it a point to visit the “Wharf” and enjoy this famous local dish.

Now, jump forward a few years and … this past month on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, I tried an unusual dish … part Lowcountry boil, part shrimp and corn soup and mostly a pot of several different crustaceans, fish and bivalves with corn, potatoes and onion in a heavenly broth. I will call it “Lowcountry Cioppino.”

Yes, I’m back home in Kingwood and, enjoying this beautiful spring weather, I thought now would be a great time to try to create a Lowcountry cioppino in the style of a low country boil or Frogmore stew. I often make my own recipe for traditional cioppino and both of these recipes are fantastic, however I doubt if any coastal California fisherman would call my Lowcountry cioppino a cioppino, and I doubt if anyone from South Carolina would call it anything more than Lowcountry boil in a creamy white sauce. But, no matter, I made them both and both were winners with my family. So “Please Join Our Table” as we break some sourdough bread and dip it into my version of Lowcountry cioppino.

Karen tried a cioppino dish on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and was inspired to create her own.

My Lowcountry Cioppino

Lowcountry boil and Frogmore stew are very similar, basically shrimp, corn, potatoes sausage and crab boiled together in a spicy stock. My family has been on Hilton Head Island since the late 1960s so, yes, I’ve enjoyed quite a few low country boils, however, to make my Lowcountry Cioppino, I do add a few more things to kick it up a notch, Texas style, including blue crabs, clams and andouille sausage.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup butter

1 large onion (diced)
2 stalks of celery (chopped)
4 cloves of garlic (minced)

32 ounces reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 bottle clam juice

3 cups water
1 can condensed lobster soup or bisque base (found in your grocery store or online)

1 can condensed shrimp soup

1 can cream of corn
1.5 lbs. crab claw meat or 6 blue crabs, cooked or 2 pounds King crab legs, cooked and cut into thirds

2 pounds shrimp, head on it adds so many flavors

1 pound firm white fish (I use cod), cut into 2 to 3-inch chunks

1 1/2 dozen live clams

1 1/2 pounds spicy link sausage (I use Andouille), sliced into 1/2-inch discs

4 ears of corn, cut into thirds

Juice of 2 lemons

Juice of 1 lime

1 pound fingerling potatoes

5 bay leaves
1 tsp. black pepper (more to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning (more to taste)
1/2 cup sherry, or more if desired

Fresh thyme for garnish
DIRECTIONS: Place the olive oil in a large stock pot on the stove over medium high heat, add the onions, celery and garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add the broth, clam juice, water, shrimp and lobster soup, cam of creamed corn, fingerling potatoes and all spices. Mix well and simmer 5 minutes. Add the sausage, ears of corn and cook 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, except the sherry. Cover pot and increase heat to medium, it will take about 5-7 minutes for the clams to open up. Remove the bay leaves and any clams that did not open. Serve immediately topping each bowl with a tablespoon of the sherry and fresh thyme. Always have sourdough bread on the table and pass the Tabasco. I sometimes also make a topping dipping sauce.

TOPPING OR DIPPING SAUCE: Melt 1 stick of butter, Old Bay seasoning to taste, a few dashes of hot sauce, the juice of 1 lemon and lime. Whisk together and pour into condiment bowls to be passed.

Note: If you desire a thicker cioppino broth, pick up a jar of instant roux in the store and add 1-2 tablespoons to the broth or make a quick white roux by heating 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan, whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour over medium low heat until mixed completely together and mixture turns a light golden color. Allow to cool, then add to the cioppino to get desired thickness.

If you want to try your hand at a traditional cioppino, here is my recipe. I added fresh fennel from my yard, that ingredient is optional, of course!

My Family Favorite Cioppino (Fish Stew)


1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded and bulb cut lengthwise into 6 wedges

1 medium onion, quartered

5 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1/2 cup EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

1 (28-ounce) can roasted crushed tomatoes in juice

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup red wine (I like to use Zinfandel or Syrah.)

1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice

Juice of 1 lemon

1-pound skinless fillets of thick white fish, such as cod or halibut, cut into 2-inch chunks

1-pound mussels and clams

Optional: Calamari, shrimp, crab claws, etc.

Grated cheese, rough chopped parsley and hot sourdough bread

DIRECTIONS: Pulse fennel, onion, and garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped.

Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then stir in chopped vegetables, bay leaves, thyme, red-pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, water, wine, and clam juice and simmer on extra low for about 30-40 minutes (if it gets too thick, add water or chicken broth). Stir in clams and cook, covered 4 minutes, add the mussels and cook 4 more minutes, add the remaining seafood and cook covered until fish is just cooked through and mussels open wide, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in lemon juice (throw away any clams or mussels that remain unopened). Remove bay leaves. Top with grated cheese and parsley and serve with hot sourdough bread.

Karen Boughton
Author: Karen BoughtonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I grew up in a big, Greek, cooking family. I married my high school sweetheart and soon had three daughters. My husband and I worked in the family’s Greek restaurant, “Zorba’s,” for several years before moving to Baton Rouge and eventually Corpus Christi. There I taught microwave cooking classes for Amana.in studio and on television for three years before moving to Kingwood in the late '80s. I reached out to learn more about regional and international foods, spending 16 years in management in private athletic/dining/country clubs for ClubCorp, where I embraced health and cooking. In 2008 I joined the Tribune Newspapers as food editor, the same time that I became a nutrition advisor and USANA Health Sciences Associate. These two passions have given me better health and the freedom to live life my way.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location