Cold weather recipe – Fish Chowder

When we were little my mom used to make some amazing fish chowder, and it’s still a tradition in my family to do fish (or sometimes clam) chowder for dinner on Christmas Eve. She’s a New England gal at heart.
I hadn’t ever tried to attempt making fish chowder myself, until this week when I realized I had a nice frozen fillet of cod in my freezer that was just waiting to be made into a creamy chunky soup.

New England Fish Chowder

I did a little sleuthing on the web and through some cookbooks to get the basic gist of what goes into chowder, and found I had to make a few changes due to the ingredients I had on hand, and here’s what I came up with:

Rebekka’s Take on Fish Chowder

1 cup chopped shallots (I found I didn’t have any regular onions! But hey, shallots are an upgrade, right?)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (I had a Chardonnay on hand)
3 cups potatoes, peeled & cut into 3/4″ cubes (that’s like 3 medium russets)
2 cups dashi fish stock – ie Bonito fish flakes steeped in water (Don’t know what dashi is? I’ll explain in a sec)
1 tsp dried thyme (or more if it’s fresh…I didn’t have fresh)
2 tsp sea salt
pepper to taste
bay leaf
1/2 lb fillet of cod, or other sturdy white fish, cut into 3/4″ cubes
1.5 cups heavy cream (or 1 cup cream, 1/2 cup milk, which is what I had)
2 tbsp flour (optional)

OK, so with most good soups, you start with onions. I found I didn’t have onions, but for some reason I had a whole bunch of shallots, so I chopped those up and put them in my pot with 2 tbsp of olive oil and heated them over medium heat until starting to turn translucent (about 5-8 minutes). Then I added the white wine to the shallots, which I reduced to about half volume.

chopped shallots

Next, you’re supposed to have clam juice or strong fish stock, or even chicken stock I guess would work. But I didn’t have any of this. then I remembered I had a bag of Bonito Flakes in my pantry from the last time I went to the Asian food market. You use these paper thin flakes of dried fish to make dashi, a broth that is used in lots of traditional Japanese cuisine (Great background reading on dashi can be found at JustHungry!) So I thought, why not just make my own kind of fish stock with the bonito flakes? It’s fishy enough! So I put another small pan on the stove, added 2 cups of water and a handful of fish flakes, brought the water to a boil, and then removed from the heat. I let the pan sit for about 10 minutes and then I strained out the flakes and had my broth! That gets added to the shallots and reduced wine.
Then I tossed in the cubed potatoes, the thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Also a pinch of paprika for good measure. Then I let the potatoes simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until just starting to feel done, but not too soft.

shallots, potatoes, herbs, and dashi!

At the end comes the fish! Into the pot! And the cream/milk goes in too. At this point you need to reduce the heat so you don’t curdle the dairy. Basically, keep stirring and keeping an eye on the chowder until it’s steamy, but not boiling. Once the fish is cooked through, it’s ready to serve!

fish chowder, almost done

Well, one minor tweak…I know that real New England fish chowder is not the thick creamy stuff you get at, say Ivar’s, in a sourdough bread bowl. This kind of chowder isn’t meant to have any thickeners added other than the natural starch in the potatoes and the cream. That said, I did want a little more body to the broth (and I knew M would too), so I cheated. If you want your soup a bit thicker, you can siphon off a cup of the broth and add 1-2 tablespoons (or more!) of all-purpose flour and whisk until smooth; then pour your flour-thickened mixture back into the main pot of chowder and stir to incorporate.

Enjoy with a piece of crusty bread, and maybe a healthy salad to balance out all that cream 😉

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