Fish Chowder

Soup and StewNew EnglandGluten-FreeFish

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

81 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Eric

    I’m about to make this recipe again for the 4th or 5th time. I put just about anything into it I can find at the time; corn and shrimp the last times. Today it’s seafood medley of shrimp, mussels, squid & octopus. I expect it to turn out as well as ever. I find the reduced white wine and thyme is what sets this dish off. Ummmmm.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Mary Welch

    This chowder was delicious! Will make again for sure. Just used a little bacon and bacon drippings and no oil/butter. Yummy. Have made other fish chowders and this is superior. Thanks for sharing.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Barbara Jackson

    I am so pleased and thankful for this recipe. I tried it for the first time around the holidays for a birthday party my family was very suspicious of how it might taste. I must confess it was a success! It was talked about at the party all night long. I did make changes to the recipe by adding like deveined shrimp that were about a little bit larger than salad shrimp and crab meat along with the c o d. This dish taste it and looked a lot like seafood Newburg to me. I just want to say thank you so much for introducing this recipe to my family and I.

  • Dorcus

    Very good chowder recipe! Back home in Maine we would gobble this up with a side of plain donuts for dipping instead of bread or crackers. Enjoy!

  • 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!

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