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Wonderfully rich New England Fish Chowder is easily restaurant-quality with tender chunks of potato, flaky white fish, and a savory, seasoned broth that seafood and soup lovers will definitely enjoy! This version is inspired by Maine but fish chowder is popular throughout New England and the British Isles.
There is something so incredibly satisfying to me about seafood soups and stews. Classic San Francisco Cioppino and rich, savory Smoked Salmon Chowder are two of our other favorites that you might enjoy if you like this Fish Chowder.
Maine Fish Chowder
When we were in Maine some years back, we enjoyed a delicious bowl of fish chowder that would probably be on my “best I ever had” list. It was silky, flavorful, and creamy without being heavy or overly thickened.
Although it’s called a chowder, it’s nothing like the gummy, gluey versions that are overly thickened with too much flour. In my perfect chowder, the thickening comes from nothing other than the starch that cooks out of the potatoes and a bit of heavy cream added at the end before serving.
My favorite fish chowder recipe also has to have a good amount of actual chunks of fish and pieces of tender potato that won’t just disintegrate in the broth. The key is both in using plenty of each ingredient (and the right type of fish and potatoes), cooking them just until tender (don’t go overboard boiling the life out of your potatoes!), and cutting them the right size so you get some in every spoonful.
This fantastic fish stew recipe doesn’t skimp on the seafood flavor, which is a common problem I have with many chowder recipes which just taste like potatoes and cream and not enough of actual fish or seafood. The secret ingredient for those of us who don’t have access to and don’t want to bother making our own homemade fish stock is to use a bottle of clam juice for part of our cooking liquid instead of just chicken broth.
The clam juice adds a delightfully briny, seafood flavor to the broth that we really enjoy! If you are feeling wary or unsure about how your family will feel about it, you can cut or replace half or all of the clam juice with water or additional chicken broth or stock instead. But it really is delicious and you should try it with clam juice at least once!
What you’ll need for fish chowder
You might notice that there is no flour included in this list of ingredients. Traditionally, New England-style chowder is not made with flour. But I will include a note below on how to thicken with flour if you want an even creamier result.
- Bacon: I love the smoky flavor of bacon in my chowder and cook this first, using some of the grease to create the flavor base of the broth. The cooked bacon is actually reserved and only added at the end as a garnish so the real star of the soup is the fish. But even though bacon isn’t the star, I still wouldn’t leave it out.
- Butter: A little bit of butter adds wonderful richness and extra flavor to the base of this chowder.
- Celery & Onions: These two humble vegetables are powerhouses for flavor and texture in a bunch of my soup recipes. I like to dice them up, although you could leave larger pieces of celery, if you prefer.
- Chicken stock: Using chicken stock as the bulk of the cooking liquid adds wonderful savory flavor to the base of this soup.
- Clam juice: You can actually buy bottles of clam juice, which is what I do when I want to replicate fish stock, rather than buying cans of clams and draining the juice out of them.
- Potatoes: Really you could use any type of potato you like in this soup, although I strongly lean toward Yukon Golds and have developed the recipe with them. Red potatoes are waxier and will hold their shape better, while russet potatoes will break down more and result in a thicker broth and fewer actual chunks of potato. Yukon Golds sort of bridge that gap and are more medium-starchy, so they hold their shape better in the soup but also release a bit more starch to help thicken the broth.
- Fish: For this fish chowder recipe, you will want a fairly firm, meaty white fish like cod, haddock, or pollock fillets. If it is frozen, just thaw beforehand in the fridge overnight first before cutting into large-ish chunks. Other possible fish options that would work well are Pacific rockfish, grouper, snapper, tilapia, bass, or even catfish.
- Old Bay Seasoning: This classic seasoning blend is a little bit spicy and a whole lotta savory and has been around since 1939. It is used in lots of New England recipes. I have a bunch more recipes featuring this signature ingredient coming up when I get to the state of Maryland, where it was created by German immigrant Gustav Brunn.
- Salt & pepper: These two workhorses are absolutely necessary to bring out all of the other flavors in the soup. Potatoes, especially need salt so they don’t taste bland. You might need to adjust the amounts based on the saltiness of the broth or stock you are using.
- Thyme leaves: This is one of my all-time favorite herbs, especially when it comes to soup! You can use fresh or dried thyme, depending on what you have available.
- Heavy cream: You could try using half-and-half, evaporated milk, or even coconut milk for a lighter soup, but they won’t thicken as well, be as rich and creamy, and may run a risk of curdling that isn’t as likely with heavy cream. Personally, it’s a no-brainer for me to use heavy cream in my fish chowder.
How to Make Fish Chowder
The actual amount of time spent making this chowder is around 15 minutes. Which leaves plenty of time for making bread bowls or a loaf of french bread to go with dinner.
- Cook bacon: Chop some bacon and cook it in a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven until crispy. When the bacon is done, remove it with a slotted spoon and drain all but 2 tablespoons of the grease.
- Saute the veggies: Melt the butter in the pot and add the onion and celery, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions have softened, then add the thyme and Old Bay seasoning.
- Simmer potatoes until tender: Add chopped potatoes, salt, and pepper, then cover with the chicken stock and clam juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking just until potatoes are tender enough to be pierced with a fork.
- Cook the fish: Add the pieces of fish to the dutch oven, nestling them on top of the potatoes. Cover and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.
- Thicken with cream: Add the cream and stir to combine. Cook another 2-3 minutes until heated all the way through, adjusting the flavor with more Old Bay seasoning, salt, or pepper as needed.
- Garnish and serve: Serve with the cooked bacon and freshly chopped parsley sprinkled over the top.
Frequently Asked Questions
For thicker chowder: This recipe relies on the starch from the potatoes and the creaminess of the cream to thicken it only slightly. If you prefer a thicker chowder, try sprinkling 1/4 cup of flour over the cooked celery and onions and stirring that in for 1-2 minutes before adding the potatoes and broth.
Yes! This recipe can be made 2 days in advance and kept in the fridge, then reheated over medium-low heat until warm. I don’t recommend freezing this soup and reheating though as the cream tends to curdle and separate.
Yes, if you have fish stock or seafood bouillon that can be combined with water to make fish stock, you are welcome to use it to replace the chicken broth and clam juice.
Make this recipe your own!
If you want to try changing things up with this recipe, here are some ideas to get you started to make this fish chowder just the way you like it!
- Add corn: Add 1 can of creamed corn or 1 can of drained whole kernel corn.
- Add carrots or mushrooms: Slice 8 ounces of mushrooms and sear them in a little bit of butter with salt and pepper to release some of their liquid. Then add this to the soup. Or peel and dice carrots, then add them with the onions and celery.
- Seafood chowder variation: Try using a mixture of 1 and 1/2 to 2 pounds of seafood instead of just fish. 1 pound of cod with 1/2 pound of bay schools and 1-2 cans of minced clams would be good. Or use 1 pound of shrimp and crab or some other combination of seafood.
More Recipes Like This
- Better-Than-Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Wisconsin Cauliflower Soup
- Easy Minestrone Soup
- White Chicken Chili
- Italian Wedding Soup
- Creamy Irish Leek and Potato Soup
New England Fish Chowder
- 6 strips of bacon chopped
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 3 celery stalks chopped
- 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning or more to taste
- 3 large Yukon gold potatoes about 4 cups, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper or more to taste
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 8 ounces clam juice
- 1 1/2 to 2 pounds skinless cod, haddock, or pollock fillets cut into 2" pieces, diced into 1/2 inch cubes (or 1 pound cod, 1/2 pound bay scallops, 1 pound shrimp, and 1-2 (6 1/2-ounce can of minced clams, undrained)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
- In a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, cook the bacon until crispy, the remove with a slotted spoon and drain most of the grease so only about 2 tablespoons remain.
- Add butter to the pot. When the butter has melted, add the onion and celery and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until onions have softened. Add the thyme and Old Bay seasoning.
- Add chopped potatoes, salt, and pepper, then cover with the chicken stock and clam juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender enough to be pierced with a fork.
- Add the pieces of fish to the dutch oven, nestling them on top of the potatoes. Cover with a lid and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the fish has turned opaque all the way through.
- Add the cream and stir to combine. Cook another 2-3 minutes until heated all the way through. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more Old Bay seasoning, salt, or pepper as needed.
- Serve with the cooked bacon and freshly chopped parsley sprinkled over the top.
- Make ahead: This recipe can be made 2 days in advance and kept in the fridge, then reheated when ready to serve.
- Fish stock: If you happen to have fish stock, it can be used in place of the chicken stock and clam juice, which I have found is an easy alternative that I have much better access to all the time.
- For thicker chowder: This recipe relies on the starch from the potatoes and the creaminess of the cream to thicken it only slightly. If you prefer a thicker chowder, try sprinkling 1/4 cup of flour over the cooked celery and onions and stirring that in for 1-2 minutes before adding the potatoes and broth.
- Optional add-ins: You might try adding 1 can of creamed or whole kernel corn. Or slice 8 ounces of mushrooms and sear them, then add to the soup.
- Adapted from Bon Appetit.
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