European fish stew
[ Wine & Dine ]

France vs. Italy: A Battle of European Fish Stews

If someone asked me if I prefer France or Italy, I’d honestly be stumped. Both countries are amazingly rich in culture, their food is to-die-for, and their architecture is stunning. In France, I’ve spent time in Nice and St. Tropez (Paris is still on my bucket list), while I’ve covered much of Italy’s boot (plus most of Sicily and several Italian islands).

So when I was invited to a media dinner to experience Bluewater Grill’s face-off of iconic European fish stews, it was an easy yes. I love flavors that remind me of all the wonderful travels I’ve enjoyed over the years. And that’s one of my favorite things about food: It instantaneously takes you back to a moment in time, and floods your memory — along with your senses — with details you may have long forgotten.

Bluewater Grill provided me with a complimentary meal. Regardless, all opinions, photos and text are my own. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.

The  History of European Fish Stews

The dinner at Bluewater Grill is a duo of fish stews: French Bouillabaisse and Italian Cioppino. If you aren’t familiar with this cuisine, France is famous for its Bouillabaisse, while Italy is know for its Cioppino. Let’s examine the origins of these two dishes:

  • Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish stew hailing from the port city of Marseille. Local fisherman originally made the stew by using the bony rockfish that they were unable to sell to restaurants or markets. What tends to make a bouillabaisse standout from other fish soups is the selection of Provençal herbs and spices used in the broth.
  • Cioppino is a fish stew derived from the various regional fish soups and stews of Italian cuisine. Italian fisherman in the late 1800s used to make this dish while out at sea — which makes sense because it’s made from the catch of the day. It’s prepared with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce.

It’s no wonder Bluewater Grill has pinned these 2 European fish stews against one another — they have similar origins and ingredients. But which one would come out on top?

The Tasting Event

When the meal arrived, it was hard to choose which one to begin with. The bouillabaisse was done Provencal style, with saffron-infused broth, fresh fish, mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops — it looked lighter and delicate. On the other hand, the cioppino consisted of a zesty marinara sauce, clams, mussels, crabmeat, shrimp, scallops and fish — it looked and smelled quite robust.

Wine pairing
Wine pairings: Pinot Blanc for the Bouillabaisse and Italian red for the Cioppino

I decided to start with the bouillabaisse, because of it’s more delicate nature — I was worried if I tasted the cioppino first, my palate wouldn’t be able to pick up the more subtle notes of the lighter dish.

Ohmygosh, that bouillabaisse was simply divine. It had a tantalizing balance of herbs and seasonings, and the various sea creatures bathing in the broth absorbed all of those flavorful notes. This dish paired beautifully with the French Pinot Blanc our waiter poured. About halfway through the bowl, I had to tear myself away so I could give the cioppino a fair chance.

European fish stew
Bluewater Grill’s Bouillabaisse

The cioppino’s marinara sauce was as bold as it looked and smelled. It instantly zinged my taste buds into another dimension and gave me an all-over cozy feeling. This is exactly the kind of meal you’d want on a cold winter’s night to warm your belly. I can see why fishermen made this while they were away from home — it’s comfort food at its finest. It was served with a carefully chosen Italian chianti, which complemented the flavors nicely.

Bluewater Grill Cioppino European Fish Stew
Bluewater Grill’s Cioppino

The Winner

A couple years ago, I went to a Cardinals-Seahawks football game that ended in a tie and was beyond annoyed with that lame and incredibly anti-climactic ending. I don’t think anything should end in a tie. So as much as I’d like to say, “too close to call,” I will render a verdict:

While I thought both European fish stews were absolutely delicious and would be happy to eat either one again and again, I declare the winner to be …

The Bouillabaisse!

Why? I respect how carefully the chef had to balance those flavors to make a seemingly simple dish stand its ground against the cioppino. Maybe I’m a sucker for the underdog, but I found those delicate flavors more complex.

Oh, and I should mention the chocolate lava cake we had for dessert … when I cut into it, it oozed chocolate everywhere. God, that makes me happy.

Chocolate lava cake
Bluewater Grill chocolate lava cake

If you’re a “seafoodie” like me and want to check out these European fish stews yourself, it’s available during the month of January at Bluewater Grill locations in Newport Beach, Redondo beach, Temecula, and Phoenix. While the French Bouillabaisse is a seasonal special, you’ll find the cioppino on the menu year-round. It’s a definite “don’t-miss!”


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