Fish Chowder

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

  • 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 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 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 In a separate pot, heat the cream until steamy (not boiling).

4 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).

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

54 Comments

  1. chika

    Hi Elise,

    It’s getting to be a soup/chowder weather over here in Tokyo, too – and I want chowder like this, right now!! I always associate the dish with New England-style clam chowder, but enjoy ones with other kind of seafood, as well. I’ve once tried chowder with smoked haddock and that was lovely, too.

  2. Avi

    Hello Elise,
    Thank you for this recipe, it looks beautiful.
    Just one question: because it is impossible to get clam juice in my corner of the Mediterranean, with what can I substitute it? Is it anything like oyster sauce?
    Thanks again
    Avi

    I would substitute fish stock, or make your own shellfish stock. ~Elise

  3. jonathan

    “…(one of the reasons I like using straight heavy cream)…”

    Besides the obvious, of course ;^)
    Looks great, E!

  4. June

    Looks wonderful Elise. It really is chowda’ weather isn’t it. I invented a new clam chowder (Yachats Blush Chowder) this summer while on the Oregon Coast by adding some hot salsa to a creamy chowder base. Hey – we live in Aridzona and we use salsa in the strangest things.

    That would work. We add tabasco to most of our soups. Definitely brightens things up. ~Elise

  5. SAS

    Oh, Elise! What a funny coincidence that you posted this recipe. A few days ago, I walked out of my gym here in Southern CA – it was a brisk, cool late afternoon. I don’t know what brought it on, but I smelled fried clams and was instantly transported to autumn in New England and the Clam Shack in Ipswich. I could practically taste them.

    I stopped at the market on the way home, then had an overwhelming urge to call my sister, Jenny, who lives in Indiana. We hadn’t spoken in a month. When she answered, she told me she was in New Hampshire, eating clam chowder as we spoke!! I asked her to please order some fried clams for me to go with the chowder.

    I, too, have super-fond memories of the Union Oyster House, the No Name, the Barking Crab, Legal Seafood…I could go on and on.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe to bring a little bit of New England to your table, no matter where you live!

  6. mantha

    The best soup in the world…

    This looks very good. We (I’m a native Rhode Islander) like a little non-sweet smoked ham with just a bit of fat on it at the base, along with some butter or oil, for the ping of smoke flavor under the cream. Makes the fragrance of the black pepper sing.

    “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet . . . ” then I know along with Ishmael it’s time to get down to the harbor and seek out a chowder shack.

  7. Brenda

    Up here in The County (Northeastern Maine) we like it unthickened, use a little water to cook everything with (no fish stock), butter (although Mom often used salt pork), and always use haddock for the fish. Fish chowder made with haddock was what my daughter missed most while living in Texas.

  8. Anali

    Well, it’s definitely “chowdah” weather here in the Bay State. I’m freezing and had to put the heat on. Your recipe did us proud! Yum! ; )

  9. Susan

    I have a question….how many would this serve and do think it would make good left overs? I am never sure if reheating fish is a good idea….what do you think? thanks, again, for the recipe!

    It serves about 6, and I think makes for excellent leftovers. Just don’t let it boil upon reheating. ~Elise

  10. Marion Olson

    Boy, is this the right recipe for today in Maine! It’s raining and the leaves are falling – time for something warm and cozy. Your recipe is a little more upscale than my method, but I love the sound of the wine in there.

    Many years ago my boyfriend’s grandmother taught me her chowdah secrets in Portsmouth, NH, and I’ve carried them from here to San Francisco to Gloucester, MA (Wingaersheek Beach, right across from Annisquam, Elise) and now back to Maine, where I still make it regularly!

    Just rules of thumb, but I cut up either pepper bacon or salt pork and brown it, then cook the onions in that rendered fat. Cook the diced potatoes in another pot until they’re really done (nothing ruins chowdah worse than crunchy potatoes!) in no more water than the minimum necessary to cover them. Then cook the fish – your choice – in that same starchy water – it thickens the soup nicely when you combine everything. The final secret is canned milk – evaporated milk, even low-fat evaporated milk, thickens very well without any flour needed.

    Okay, I’m heading for the fish market right about now…

    Sigh. Annisquam. This summer I paddled over to Wingaersheek Beach. Managed to dodge the green heads. Thanks for sharing your variation of chowder, yum! ~Elise

  11. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    I love this recipe because: (a) it doesn’t call for bacon or salt pork, which are traditional for adding a bit of a smoky flavor base; and (b) it doesn’t call for tomatoes, which might be a peculiarly Rhode Island addition to chowdah — but I am not from Rhode Island, so for me, chowdah is always white. Although chowder is a year-round dish, it’s especially welcome as the Fall weather settles in here.

  12. Meg

    Elise, your recipe evokes memories of my father’s “dowry” — his mother’s recipe for fish chowder. Daddy grew up in Calais, ME, and like Brenda who commented above, he used water, butter and haddock to make the sublime chowder of my childhood. Thanks for the memories!

  13. Wendi

    SO, I checked the freezer, all I have is tilapia. Will that work?

    Sure. Should work fine. ~Elise

  14. David

    Yum. Now I know what I’m having for dinner tomorrow.

    Was reading all the ingredients to see if I had everything (I do).

    When I got to dam juice I was puzzled. Was it a pet name for water? Or some strange cooking term I didn’t know? Wouldn’t dam juice be electricity? Glace de poisson, and other cooking terms I haven’t used for years were bouncing around in my head as I tried to figure it out. I was severely puzzled.

    Then I put on my reading glasses….. Oh it’s clam juice……

  15. Wendi

    The Tilapia was great. And so was the recipe!! Perfect on this cooler October day! Thanks for the inspiration, as always.

  16. Lynda

    I have a couple quick questions on this recipe. It looks delicious and I would love some good ol chowder. Would it be possible to substitute fish stock and milk for the heavy cream. We are limited in Algeria on certain items..ty

    Hi Lynda, you might want to make a roux with some butter and flour (after cooking the potatoes) and then slowly add the milk to that, mixing well to make it smooth, and then add that to the soup. Heavy cream will thicken a soup naturally. Milk will not. So one alternative is to thicken it with flour. ~Elise

  17. Jim

    Wow, looks phenomenal, especially with the weather getting chilly. Question though: You specifically mentioned white fish, but is there a particular reason why salmon, for instance, wouldn’t work? Being in the SeaTac area, that beautiful, pink food-of-the-gods is relatively easy to find (and it supports the local economy too!).

    Salmon has a distinctive, and quite strong, flavor. You could make a stew with it (I recommend the Brazilian style salmon stew on this site). I wouldn’t recommend using it for this New England style fish chowder, the taste would be too different. ~Elise

  18. Shelley (Pink House)

    Did you ever eat at Todd English’s Fish Club down in that area? I LOVED his clam chowder – thin and delicately flavored with one large homemade cracker floating on top. Yum!

    No, didn’t know about that one. I lived in Boston a good 25 years ago, so maybe it wasn’t around then. ~Elise

  19. Jennifer

    I’ve got a few pounds of striped bass in the freezer. Do we think that will work? I looooove fish chowers, and this sounds great!

    Yes, I think that striped bass would work fine. ~Elise

  20. JohnL

    I like your style, Elise. I had been a head chef in a few Boston area seafood restaurants.I’ve made chowder according to many different recipes including a few of my own. I had decided to give your’s a shot.

    The Yukon gold potatoes are my favorite to use The use of olive oil and butter gives a different feel to it, but the heavy cream instead of using flour with h/h, light cream or milk made up for the fat content. I am a fan of going with no flour as well. The difference is a lighter more velvety feel.

    I definitely recommend a simmer with heavy cream and not a boil. It is not a bad idea to simmer the cream to about a 70% reduction before adding it. Never boil as not only can it break but it will get a burnt taste very easily.

    Good recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Anja (Savorychicks)

    Thanks for this great recipe!
    Never thought I’d make clam chowder myself, but it turned out great!

  22. Michele

    well I am from New bedford area in MA…..5 miles from the ocean, 53 miles south of Boston….bout half hr to cape cod. We LOVE our chowda & stuffed quahogs ! Cant be beat ! Ever have a stuffed quahog??? LOVE them….I make them ocasionally ! Every one knows us new englanders have the BEST seafoood around! Just had to put my 2 cents in!! Apple pie …baked beans with Linguica oh yea !! Its a fooodies season!

  23. Bennie Howe

    I was born, raised and will retire in the midwest. However I have experienced much travel in my career. Wherever I went my coworkers from the area did their best to help me experience the local customs and flavor. I seem to have a memory from every business trip. The No Name Restaurant in Boston is a favorite. When I read it in the article it brought back memories (early to mid 1980′s) of friendship and good food. One thing I remember, besides delicious chowder, was the atmosphere/ambience. There is/was none, and the lack of it was reflected in the price of a meal. Just my style. I loved it. Be prepared a total stranger may sit right down at your table, eat their lunch and walk away, never making eye contact or muttering a word.
    Thanks for the recipe. Starting to get cold here and I can’t wait to try it.

  24. Upphins

    Believe it or not, I live in New England and this is my first seafood (or claim) chowder I’ve ever made. Absolutely delicious and so easy! This will diffidently go on my monthly rotation! Thx! Peter

  25. Kirsten

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I made it a couple of nights ago…and it was scrumptious! I cut the amount of cod in half and subbed the rest with baby shrimp. SO GOOD! Thank you! :)

  26. Wendy

    This recipe looks wonderful and I want to try it. I am not very experienced with cooking fish and I have a question about your note. You say to get fish with pin bones removed…is this something you ask the fishmonger to do or do you remove them yourself? If I get frozen fish will the pin bones be removed?

    Hi Wendy, great question. Often when you are buying fresh fillets, there will be a row of fish bones that need to be pulled out. The best way to do this is with some pliers that you keep on hand just for this purpose. In my experience the fish monger typically does not do this for you. As for frozen, it depends on the fish. Fillets often have pin bones in them. Steaks usually do not. ~Elise

  27. purvis

    I made this, and it seemed a bit bland at first, but when I added a little salt and lemon, I could really enjoy it and savor the fish flavor. Mmmm…. It seemed a bit watery, though. I wonder why it’s so thick in restaurants? Do they add starch or something?

    Often they add flour to thicken it. ~Elise

  28. Barbara Ann

    Hi Elise… I am such a fan (so are my friends and family by extension!). If I made this soup ahead (say in the morning) could I reheat it late afternoon without ruining the cream? Thanks so much.

    The soup reheats great, just watch it so it doesn’t boil. ~Elise

  29. Sandra

    Elise, thank you for the inspiration. I made a variation of this soup last night with swai fish. The thyme, bay leaf and old bay seasoning gave this a wonderful flavor. Love your recipes.

  30. purvis

    So, my husband didn’t like this much. He felt there were too many potatoes (I probably added more than was required, but I like them). He wanted to see how it would taste if it was run through a food processor with all those potatoes and fish. So we tried it and… it was quite good! Again, adding salt and lemon. It was thick and yummy. I actually like it either way.

  31. Anna

    Hello Elise, just tried out your chowder recipe and it was really, really good! By far the best and the easiest chowder recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    So glad you liked it. ~Elise

  32. nadya

    I made this recipe last week and my husband and I were sooo impressed! we had it for left overs too! I followed the recipe to a t and it came out perfect! Thanks Elise!

  33. amanda donovan

    I’m in New England/Massachusetts/Cape Ann area/in Ipswich (to narrow it down). Every week we get about 6 pounds of fish off the docks in Gloucester for our CSF (community supported fishery) and we do get lots of cod and pollock this time of year. I’ve been using up a lot of it as the weather gets chilly in chowders, stews and soups. My neighbor also digs clams, and always is dumping an extra few pounds on my doorstep, so I tend to mix the white fish and clams, clam liquor and fish stock, all in together. In typical New England fashion, I try not to waste a bit, and use whatever I have on hand.

    This recipe is great- one thing chowder is NOT supposed to be is thick and pasty! This is perfectly rich yet thin in consistency. Incredibly simple, too. I only get salt pork in November when my pig goes to market, and don’t have any on hand now (we dont eat meat from the grocery store) and it’s hard to find a chowder recipe that does not require pork fat. One tip- if you add clams, don’t let the chowder sit in an aluminum pot! KABLAMO! Thanks, Elise- there’s nothing like good yankee cooking at this time of year. I would love to see a nice spicy Portuguese fish chowder recipe here sometime, too!

    Hi Amanda, thanks for your comment! I spent some time in the Cape Ann area this summer (photos), so lovely there. And the fish is amazingly fresh. I do have a bacalhoada Portuguese fish stew on the site, as well as a more spicy Brazilian fish stew which we’ve made with salmon, though it is more typically done with a white fish, so you could easily substitute. ~Elise

  34. Jane

    I came from downeast Maine and when I was a child my relatives used to make a fish stew that they seemed to cook for hours on the wood stove. It included potatoes and they used the dried pieces of cod fish that were sold in barrels in the local general store. They also had hard boiled eggs in it. I never ate it, but the grownups seemed to love it. I wonder if anyone ever heard of it made like that.

    Hi Jane, that sounds like a Portuguese fish stew called bacalhoada. We have a recipe for it here on the site. It’s delicious. ~Elise

  35. Harry

    Wow, No Name Restaurant brings back memories of standing in line with our six pack of beer waiting for a table and ordering the clam chowder and the fried clam platter. Thanks for the memory!!

    Got to try this recipe out, I’ve always been afraid to make a chowder, was a little outside my comfort zone.

  36. Kellie

    This chowder really got me inspired. I made it this weekend and it was delicious! I usually make clam chowder but this fish chowder looked so good I had to try it. It is being filed under my favorites to make again!

  37. Catherine

    Thanks for this recipe. I just made it from fresh Cod and it’s delicious. I’m a Californian living in Norway (in Scandinavia, not Maine)and I don’t miss California as much as I miss the 4 years spent in Boston with its good chowders. The fishing boats here reminded me of New England and this recipe inspired me to try it. My first time and it was perfect. Thank you and next time, I’ll try it with clams.

  38. Caroline

    WOW! This is a fantastic recipe! I have never made chowder before and I can’t believe how well it turned out. I added some jumbo raw shrimp cut in half and some Japanese scallops with the fish (the scallops lightly sauteed in garlic and butter first) and a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, plus a can of minced clams and the juice. I used half and half instead of the heavy cream, and thickened it with a little cornflour mixed with water.
    It tasted SO authentic and was very flavourful without being too heavy or greasy. My husband thinks I’m a genius, but I can’t take the credit – I think the wine and herbs made this perfect.
    Thanks for a wonderful recipe Elise – I will definitely make this many times again in the future!!!
    Caroline.

  39. Daniele

    Thank you for providing me with knowledge of soups like this, which are rare here in Italy.
    I already knew and appreciated the Norwegian “Bergensk Fiskesuppe”. Starting from both, I have tried a lighter, greener soup (milk instead of cream, fish bouillon cube, potato, carrot, celery).
    The result is not too bad: http://nellarete.blogspot.com/2010/03/vellutata-mare-e-orto.html (in Italian).

    Looks great, so glad you liked it! ~Elise

  40. jen

    Hi, I’m wondering if you have any ideas on how to make a creamy clam chowder without cream. I have a dairy allergy and I’m trying to figure out a substitute for this (because it’s an allergy I’ve grown into and so I know what I’m missing!). I’m wondering if something like making a roux, using potatoes? would soy/rice milk work somehow? any ideas are appreciated!

  41. Rhoda

    Hi Jen. Looks like you’ve waited a long time for a response! I’m allergic to milk too and use unflavored soy creamer in place of light cream all the time in many recipes. Soy creamer is a bit thicker than regular unflavored soy milk, but I bet you could uses soy milk too. For extra thickening, see the comments above about adding flour.

  42. Jami Wells

    I made some fish stock using salmon….do you think that would work in this recipe?

    Actually I don’t think so. Salmon is very distinctive tasting. You could probably make a good salmon chowder with it though! ~Elise

  43. Jan from MA

    Elise, this looks wonderful-just right for the weather we’ve been having this year! I like my Fish Chowder simple, I use 1/4 lb. of salt pork, saute until crisp, take out the salt pork and reserve. I use the fat to cook the onions until soft. Add 3 cups diced potatoes and just enough boiling water to cover (you could use clam broth but you don’t really need it). The more liquid you use the thinner the chowder will be. I cook the potatoes maybe 10 minutes and add my fish fillets – 2 lbs total of haddock, cusk and/or cod. Cook until fish flakes. Add a can of evaporated milk. You can add heavy cream if you like to make it the consistency you like. I add finely chopped parsley and 2 tablespoons of butter and cracked pepper. Heat to a simmer. That’s it! New England Fish Chowder – oh, I sprinkle some of the sauteed pork over each serving – maybe a tablespoonful.

  44. V G Fields

    Elise, This is a wonderful, easy dish! I don’t eat potatoes and I was able to replace them with chickpeas. Yummy, just right for a winter night!

  45. Susan from Uncasville, CT

    Hello Elise,

    Just wanted to tell you that I made your recipe last night for Fish Chowder, with a couple of minor changes and it was delicious!!! Our extra fridge in the basement quit working and I had to quickly cook the meat and fish that was thawing out. I had a pound of wild salmon and a pound of orange ruffy fish, so I thought what can I make with both of those? I decided on your recipe on Simply Recipes after looking through several others because I thought it might work well with the types of fish I had. Besides the fish, the differences were that I used light cream instead of heavy, and a white cooking wine with lemon flavor and made twice the recipe. I thought it was “gourmet restaurant” good!
    Thank you.
    Susan

  46. Thomas

    I just made this stew and it is wonderful. I will keep this one and I will make it again. I only had one pound of fish so I added two stalks of celery, diced, to give it some body. I cooked the onion and celery in the olive oil and butter, then added flower and made a roux for thickening because I used half & half. Otherwise, I followed the recipe and it came out great!

  47. Frances Squire

    My daughter went deep sea fishing at Avila this morning and came back with a limit of rock fish of various types. We went online to try to find something to do with them and found this recipe. It was OUTSTANDING (and I’m not much of a cook). We had two ears of fresh Fresno State University corn (the best in the world). It was a perfect addition. I highly recommend this recipe and look forward to trying it again–since she’s going fishing again in the morning!

  48. Mom and Son

    My son caught several Blue Fish yesterday on Cape Cod. We substituted it in this recipe for the cod and it was terrific.

  49. Gwen

    Thank you for posting such an easy recipe to follow.

    I made a version of this recipe you can view here: http://saturdayswithmaggy.blogspot.com/2011/08/fish-chowder.html

    It turned out yummy! Thank you!

    Looks terrific! ~Elise

  50. Laura

    Thank you for posting…we recently relocated to Houston, Texas and although we can get great seafood_my husband and I really miss the chowda! When we went to the Cape for Thanksgiving we had some delicious chowda and I want to recreate it at home. I hope I can do justice to your recipe:) I think I will be adding a little bacon too! Thanks again.

  51. HH

    Made this about 5 wks ago and it was just super! Have made it 3 times since varying the recipe with different kinds of fish and other ingredients,never follow the recipe exactly and always have a great meal.Got a pot on the stove now to serve for Christmas dinner.You just can’t go wrong with this one.

  52. Lisa

    Mmm-mmm, this is very good. Since I’m usually starving when I get home from work, I made this the night before which worked out fine. I did use half & half and couldn’t resist frying up some bacon to sprinkle over the top of our bowls of chowder and using the drippings for sauteing the onions.

  53. walter

    I’ve have some fresh/frozen halibut how would that do. Does the parsley have to be fresh I always have some left that goes to waste.

    Halibut, fresh or frozen, would be great in this chowder. I prefer fresh parsley, but if dried is what you have, use that. You might want to check out a post I did a while back called, What’s the deal with parsley?. ~Elise

  54. Brig

    What a great recipe! I made it this week, and it was great. I coulnt find clam juice here in Australia, so just prepared some home-made vegetable stock. It probably lacked some depth of flavour due to this but was still delicious!

Post a comment

Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for waiting. First time commenting? Please review the Comment Policy.

Some HTML is OK. URLs are automatically converted to links. Line breaks are automatically converted to paragraphs. The following HTML tags are allowed: a, abbr, acronym, b, blockquote, cite, code, del, em, i, q, strike, strong