Fish Chowder

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Creamy fish chowder! With cod, or firm white fish, Yukon Gold potatoes, onions, clam juice, and cream.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

My first job out of college was in Boston, in the financial district downtown. My local friends did their best to initiate this wide-eyed Californian into New England traditions of every sort, especially food.

We feasted on as many menu items as we could afford at the Union Oyster House and the No Name Restaurant, and $5/lb lobsters I would buy from the Italian fish monger across the street from where I lived in the North End.

One dish I could never get enough of was “chowdah”. Clam chowder, fish chowder, seafood chowder, whatever, I loved it.

The word chowder is thought to come from the French “chaudiere”, which is basically a large pot or cauldron used to cook stews like this. There are many regional varieties of chowder.

New England style chowder is white, with cream and potatoes. Traditional New England recipes call for starting out rendering fat from salt pork and then making a roux with flour.

Other recipes skip the salt pork, but use a lot of butter. Most recipes called for a highly flavorful fish stock.

For this particular fish chowder, which we all agreed turned out exceptionally well, we are using olive oil and butter instead of bacon or salt pork. We are skipping the flour and are instead using cream and the starch from the potatoes to thicken the stew. In place of fish stock, we are using flavorful clam juice instead.

Recipe from the archives, first posted 2009

Fish Chowder Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 cups clam juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay (optional, can use a little paprika and a dash of cayenne)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs cod*, or other firm white fish, pin bones removed, fillets cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

* Here in the west we get Pacific Cod, considered a sustainable fish by Seafood Watch. Pick the best, most sustainable option available to you.

Method

1 Sauté onions in oil and butter, add wine: Heat oil and butter in the bottom of a large pot (6-qt) on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine, if using, and turn up the heat, cook, uncovered until the wine reduces by half. (If not using wine, add 1/4 cup of water with the clam juice.)

2 Add potatoes, clam juice, spices, then simmer: Add the potatoes, clam juice, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper, and Old Bay spice. (The potatoes should be just barely covered with the liquid in the pot. If not, add water so that they are.)

Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and cook, covered, until the potatoes are almost done, about 10-15 minutes.

3 Heat cream: In a separate pot, heat the cream until steamy (not boiling).

4 Add fish to soup, add hot cream: Add the fish to the pot of potatoes and add the heated cream. Return to the stove. Cook on low heat, uncovered, until the fish is just cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Keep your eye on the heat! If you are using straight heavy cream you should be more easily able to avoid curdling, even if the soup starts to boil. But if you are substituting light cream, half and half, or milk, the mixture will likely curdle if it gets near boiling point (one of the reasons I like using straight heavy cream).

Keep the temperature so that it barely gets steamy, but not simmering.

When the fish is just cooked through, remove from heat.

Mix in the parsley. The flavors will improve if the soup rests 30 minutes before serving.

Serve with crusty bread or oyster crackers (not for gluten-free version).

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Links:

Origins of Chowder great article with recipes from the 1700s and 1800s, from The Old Foodie

New England Chowder Compendium - online archive of historical chowder recipes dating back to the 1700s

Fish Chowder

Showing 4 of 76 Comments

  • Tina

    Made this as written last night and it was wonderful! The husband loved it, too. I just had to add a bit more salt to my individual bowl, but that’s normal. Awesome recipe!

  • Dennis

    I love to cook and came across this recipe. Followed it exactly except added 1 large diced white potato and a few clams scallops and shrimp. Fantastic. Thanks so much
    Anyone trying this believe me it’s simple and delicious. Don’t overcook the fish, add it at the end 3-4 minutes is all the cod scallops and shrimp need. Shellfish a few minutes earlier. Let them open up. Fresh sourdough and gobs of butter. Thanks for a fantastic recipe.

  • Laura

    Love this recipe, am allergic to shellfish i use chicken broth instead of clam juice , I also add a can of corn to add some sweetness

  • Serena Milan

    This recipe is amazing! Try it, you won’t be disappointed!

  • Allison

    Awww, what a great walk down memory lane! We lived in Boston for over a decade before moving to the Midwest a while back. We loved the no-name and for our lobster from James hook. We happen to have some fish in the fridge now, so this will be dinner tonight.

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