Fish Chowder

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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 indian pudding at Durgin Park, 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. New England style chowder is white, with cream and potatoes. No tomatoes. It’s thick, rich, and creamy. You can bury it in little oyster crackers.

For some odd reason I had a hankering for fish chowder this week. Maybe it’s the change in the weather, with the cool nights coming in. In my research on chowder recipes I learned that there are lots of ways to make fish chowder.

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 dish, which we all agreed turned out exceptionally well, we are using olive oil and butter, no flour, and we use clam juice for the stock and heavy cream.

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

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Showing 4 of 68 Comments

  • Nelson

    I’m looking forward to making this for a large group (about 25 people).

    Two questions for you: If I quadruple the recipe, do the proportions remain the same? (Not always the case when multiplying an original recipe.) And would this be good made a day ahead and reheated?

    Thanks!

  • Blue

    Just for the record. Red or tomatoes based chowder is from NY.. Manhattan to be precise. Rhode Island. . Is CLEAR. it is neither red nor white. Clear. Rhode Island prepend the taste only the clams, the fish etc and the broth is clear . Rich. And flavorful. .and called Chowdah-! .that being said, I loved your New England style (white) Fish chowder. Will make this for sure. I may even try Carols additional ingredients the second time. Thank you!

  • Tina

    This is such a simple but amazing recipe. This was the second time I made it, the first I used chicken stock as I didn’t have clam juice on hand, and it was amazing. This time I used the clam juice and it is even more amazing. I follow it to the tee, except just for color I add carrots and celery with the onion.

  • Karla

    I’ve made this recipe a few times, but can never make a recipe as-is, preferring to experiment along the way. :) Sometimes I use bacon fat or even a couple strips of bacon for the fat, but the olive oil and butter are great too. I’ve used the white wine, but it’s not something I usually buy, so sub chicken broth since I always have homemade stock in the fridge. I like to use one sweet potato along with the white, 2 cans of clams instead of straight clam juice (pureed, since I don’t like chunks of clams!), and enough broth to equal the 2c or cover the potatoes. Our favorite fish to add is salmon, but we’ve also used cod and flounder. We don’t usually have milk products unless they’re cultured, so I’ve added a jar of cultured cream or cream of coconut from the top of a can of coconut milk, both of which are excellent (and I don’t bother with the step of heating it separately). I also like to add frozen corn. If we want thicker chowder, I use some flour. Made this recipe for lunch today and it’s always a hit with the family! Leftovers are even better, since the flavors meld. Thanks for the inspiration.

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