Abigail Cahill O'Brien

C is for (Fish) Chowder

In Food on June 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

Photo by Amy Meier

You can’t see the fish chowder in this picture, but trust me, it’s in the mug.  And there’s a “C” on the mug, so, at least we have that.

How do you feel about clam chowder?  Personally, I’m conflicted.  Having never developed a love for clams (are they supposed to be chewier than sun-dried taffy, or are they often just overcooked?) I eat around them, which makes me feel like a chowder fraud.  After all, it is clam chowder.

Now, the creamy broth and potatoes can do no wrong, except to my health.  Eating a bowl of cream in any guise is fun right up until putting down the spoon and realizing you just ate a bowl of cream.

Thankfully my mother (and now the rest of us) makes a satisfying alternative: a barely-kissed-with-cream fish chowder.  She calls it “healthful,” and I’m inclined to agree.

Usually I’d start with a little bacon for flavor, but when cooking for non-meat eaters, fresh herbs and white wine add plenty of complexity.

The proportions are malleable.  Using my largest stockpot calls for one bag of potatoes, four or five onions, two handfuls of thyme, a whole bottle of white wine, six pounds of chowder fish, and a half a cup of heavy cream.

If I were making a small pot for four people I’d use one onion, a few tbsp of fresh  thyme,  three potatoes, a pound of fish, a cup of wine and two tbsp heavy cream.

New England Fish Chowder

  • Olive oil
  • Yellow onions, diced
  • Fresh thyme
  • Yukon gold potatoes, diced (peeling optional)
  • Water
  • Dry white wine
  • Chowder fish (halibut, cod)
  • Heavy cream (just a splash)
  • Salt and pepper

Add oil to heated stockpot, then sauté onions in oil until they begin to soften (4-5 minutes).   Add thyme and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Add diced potatoes and stir.  Pour water over the potatoes until they are barely covered, and then add wine.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender but not falling apart.

Lay chowder fish over the potatoes, cover again and cook until fish is cooked through (white throughout, with no translucence.)  For a huge stock pot this could take 12-15 minutes; check smaller pots at 4 minutes.

When the fish is cooked, add the desired amount of heavy cream to color the broth.  Stirring the cream in will break up the fish into spoon-size chunks.   Season with salt and pepper and serve.

It’s terrific the second day.

  1. Yum! I love fish chowder and find that the best ones are home made. Chowders at restaurants always seem too creamy or too milky, but never just right. Only suggestion I’d make is for the addition of a wee bit o’ bacon or pancetta, sauteed with the onions.

    • I completely agree Jane, but what to do for guests who don’t eat meat? Hence this thyme/white wine version. Normally, though, I’m with you.

  2. I get it – and I do think our obsession with putting bacon on anything/everything touches on the perverse at times. Although I still put bacon on/in a lot of things. 🙂

  3. Um, whoops Mary! You are not Jane. The dangers of twittering and commenting at the same time. Please forgive!

  4. No worries! I understand the challenges. 🙂

  5. I’m definitely going to try this recipe… but on a cooler summer day. This weekend I’m opting for chilled avocado soup. A favorite when it’s predicted to be close to 90 degrees! Thanks for sharing the recipe…sounds good and easy too.

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