Stop fishing for the perfect fish chowder recipe. It’s this.
Many people associate summer soup with chilled bowls of bright red gazpacho, or maybe the more elegant, old-world stylings of Vichyssoise. But me? When I think of soup in summer, my mind goes straight to the haddock chowder I’ve enjoyed during Maine summers since childhood. This creamy New England fish chowder recipe tastes surprisingly light, and is full of chunky fresh fish, potatoes, and a delicate, satisfying flavor.
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New England vs. Manhattan-Style Chowders
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.
Why the difference? 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. This history is less clear.
Recipe Notes: Creamy New England Fish Chowder
- Obviously, the most important thing here is to use very fresh fish. Haddock would be the top choice; cod also works very well. Make sure the bones and skin have been completely removed.
- Oyster crackers make the most authentic accompaniment to New England fish chowder. But warm buttermilk biscuits straight from the oven are often served with chowder as well, and taste even better.
Did you make the recipe? How did it turn out?
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Creamy 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 with fresh minced chives and serve with oyster crackers or hot biscuits.