I can’t believe I’m writing a chowder post in August. But here we are, on our second week of almost daily downpours (not just passing monsoon summer thunderstorms, but rain showers as regular as clockwork) and it feels like autumn. Though my tomatoes are likely screaming for respite, I’m actually enjoying the weather. Must be the West Coast girl in me. Needless to say, my usual hankering for crunchy, chilled salads hasn’t been as strong as customary for me this time of year.
Unlike many chowders I’ve eaten—those thick, heavy, stick-to-your-ribs meals perfect for cold, winter months—this chowder is filling, yet also quite light. It’s almost more of a soup than a stew. And now is the optimal time to be making it because seafood is abundant and there’s a rich diversity of fresh fish this time of year. I don’t have a standard recipe for what exactly goes into the pot; I usually just buy whatever proteins and veggies look the freshest and will give me a lovely variety of tastes, textures, and colors.
This dish is perfect for adding more fish to your diet. We all know the benefits of eating fish—it’s high in important nutrients often lacking in most standard American diets, particularly things like iodine, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids—yet few of us actually eat much of it. Foods from the ocean protect our health and longevity in ways other foods don’t.
A soup, stew, or meal with a variety of bite-size undersea proteins is a great way to incorporate seafood into our diets in an economical and appetizing way, especially for those not really into fish. For this chowder, I keep the fish fillets whole when poaching, then break up the flesh afterward rather than it cutting into pieces. I find the fish keeps more of its integrity that way, and doesn’t dissolve or overcook.
Though not imperative, I can’t stress enough the preference for taking the time to prepare a fish stock for the base of your chowder. You can make one in as little as an hour, and both the flavor and the nutrient content will be vastly improved. Ask your fishmonger for spare fish parts—collars, tails, racks from cutting filets—and be sure to include some heads, as the heads contain most of the gelatin, collagen, vitamins, and minerals.
Prep time: 30 minutes, plus time to prepare stock
Cook time: 45 minutes, plus time to prepare stock
Just a quick note: when you’re preparing the fish stock, use only lean, mild, white fish like cod or snapper. Fatty fish, like salmon, create an off-taste and a very cloudy stock.
For the chowder
4 thick bacon slices, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large Yukon gold potato, diced
1 teaspoon thyme
1 pound assorted fish filets or steaks (halibut, cod, salmon, swordfish), preferably bone-in, skin-on
1 pound assorted shellfish (peeled and deveined shrimp, scallops, baby clams, mussels), cleaned
¼ pound calamari tubes and tentacles
Salt and pepper
1 quart fish stock
2 cups heavy cream
1 large handful fresh dill, chopped
For the fish stock (makes approximately 1 quart)
1 lean, head-on white fish carcass (cod, snapper, grouper, halibut)
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
½ carrot, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 parsley stems
2 tablespoons white wine
1½ quarts water
To prepare the stock:
- Place all ingredients in a large pot and fill with water to cover (approximately 1½ quarts). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover partially, and simmer for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours (any longer and I find the stock develops an “off” taste).
- Remove from heat and strain the stock through a mesh strainer. Use immediately or chill in an ice bath before packaging and refrigerating or freezing for later use.
To prepare the chowder:
- Fry the diced bacon in a heavy pot until crisp. Drain and set aside. Clean the pot before proceeding with the rest of the chowder.
- Melt the butter in the pot and sweat the onions and celery over medium-low heat until fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the potato and cook 5 more minutes. Add thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Cover with stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until all veggies are almost tender, approximately 20 minutes.
- Poach the fish fillets (leave pieces whole) in the broth, a few at a time, until just cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, remove fish to a large bowl. Continue with any remaining fish.
- Add the shellfish to the pot and cook, one species at a time, until just cooked through: Shrimp and scallops until firm and opaque (about 2 minutes), mussels and clams about 5-10 minutes (until shells open—discard any that don’t open after about 15 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, remove the seafood and add to bowl with fish.
- Cook the calamari just until opaque, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the seafood bowl.
- Add the heavy cream to pot and bring to a simmer. Add dill and stir through. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones from the fish pieces and break into large, bite-size chunks. The shellfish meat can remain in the shells or be removed according to your tastes. Return all seafood to the pot.
- Gently heat through, then ladle into warm bowls. Serve with crusty bread, if desired, and a crisp salad.
Image by Briana Goodall.