Stop fishing for the perfect fish chowder recipe. It’s this.
This creamy New England fish chowder recipe tastes surprisingly light, and is full of chunky fresh fish and potatoes, with a delicate, satisfying flavor. Best of all? This Maine haddock chowder is super easy to make.
There’s something particularly good about a nice, simple chowder. All soups have a special homey, satisfying quality. But this easy, creamy New England fish chowder recipe takes it to the next level. It’s surprisingly light, and full of chunky fresh fish, potatoes, and a delicate, satisfying flavor. This is the haddock chowder recipe I’ve enjoyed during Maine summers since childhood.
Simple to make and full of flavor despite the lack of common chowder ingredients like bacon or clam juice, this fish chowder recipe will take your taste buds straight to Bar Harbor or Cape Cod.
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What’s the Difference: Fish Chowder from New England vs. Manhattan
Maine- or New England-style chowders — clam chowder, fish chowder, lobster stew — have a milk or cream base.
Manhattan chowders, on the other hand, contain no cream. Instead, these soups use a tomato broth, and usually have vegetables like carrots and celery, seasoned with herbs like parsley and thyme.
When Was Fish Chowder Invented?
The generally-accepted wisdom is that creamy New England chowders became popular in the early 1800s, when it was served at Boston’s (still-famous) Union Oyster House, the oldest continually-operated restaurant in America. The style of soup, already well known regionally, spread throughout New England from there.
Meanwhile, down the coast, Rhode Island’s Portuguese immigrant fishing communities traveled back and forth from New York City’s Fulton Fish Market in the mid-1800s, bringing with them their Mediterranean-style tomato and vegetable fish soup. Allegedly. The history of this exact fish chowder recipe is less clear.
What is the best thickener for fish chowder?
What thickens this New England fish chowder? Not much. This fish chowder recipe does not use any thickeners like flour or cornstarch.
Traditionally, Maine-style fish chowder is not thick and gloopy, but rather more milky and broth like. The chowder will thicken slightly, however, thanks to the starch in the potatoes. This fish chowder with potatoes and milk yields a haddock chowder recipe that is creamy but not thick, brothy but not watery.
A Note on Substituting Heavy Cream
This recipe calls for heavy cream or half-and-half. Half-and-half contains an equal mixture of heavy cream and whole milk, thereby slightly reducing the overall fat and calories.
I do not recommending substituting heavy cream or half-and-half in this recipe. The total quantity is only half a cup, divided among multiple bowls of finished soup.
What type of fish is best for New England fish chowder recipe?
Use very fresh, meaty white fish for the best fish chowder recipe.
Haddock would be the top choice for this fish chowder recipe. Cod also works very well. Make sure the bones and skin have been completely removed. You want a meaty, lean white fish.
Oily, strong-tasting fish like salmon, swordfish, tuna, and the like are bad fish choices for fish chowder. Likewise, delicate white fish like sole or flounder is not substantial enough and will break apart.
New England Fish Chowder: Recipe Notes
This recipe comes together quickly, with a prep time of 15 minutes, cook time of 40 minutes, and a total time of about an hour. The ingredients are simple:
- White fish like haddock or cod
- Yellow onion and Yukon gold potatoes (don’t use red potatoes; the starch amount is not right)
- Dairy like butter, evaporated milk, and cream
- A bay leaf, 1 1/2 tsp salt and some fresh-ground pepper
What should I serve with this soup?
Oyster crackers make the most authentic accompaniment to this fish chowder recipe. But warm buttermilk biscuits straight from the oven are often served with chowder as well, and taste even better.
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New England Fish Chowder
- 3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut to a medium dice
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound fresh haddock or cod fillets, picked over for bones
- 1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
- cold water
- fresh minced chives and oyster crackers, to garnish (optional)
- Dice the potatoes and onions. PRO TIP: Keep cut potatoes from discoloring by covering them in cold water until ready for use.
- In a soup pot, melt half the butter over medium-low heat. Add the diced onions and bay leaf and cook, stirring, over medium heat until translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the diced potatoes and add enough water to the pot to cover the potatoes and onions. Cover and gently boil until the potatoes are just fork tender, about 10 minutes.
- Lay the whole fish fillets on top of the potatoes and onion. Add the evaporated milk and the half-and-half or cream. Do not stir. Cover and cook at a simmer, without stirring, for about 15 minutes. Check the pot once or twice to make sure the liquid does not boil.
- Check to make sure that the potatoes have fully softened, and the fish is cooked and flakes apart easily. Add the rest of the butter, the salt, and a good dose of fresh black pepper. Stir gently to combine and break the fish apart a bit. Taste for seasoning.
- Top your fish chowder with fresh minced chives and serve with oyster crackers or hot biscuits.