How to Make Prize-Winning Seafood Chowder
There are many variations on seafood chowder from Boston to San Diego. The biggest difference is between creamy New England clam chowder and savory, tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. The historical beef between these two chowders dates back to the early 1900s. No matter what side of this long running rivalry you fall on, you can make prize-winning seafood chowder by following a few simple guidelines.
1. Start with a flavorful base.
Classic New England or Boston seafood chowder begins with a flavorful base of pork fat rendered from bacon, pancetta, chorizo or kielbasa sausage. This savory base is also excellent for Manhattan chowder. Once you have crisped up the pork, remove it from the pot leaving the fat behind to sweat the onions, shallots or leeks. You can choose to add the pork back in later or use it as a garnish.
If you are a pescatarian, you can substitute smoked salmon for pork.
2. Use a good fish stock.
Fresh fish stock made at home or from your local fishmonger makes the broth brighter and full of flavor. While many recipes call for clam juice, it isn’t as satisfying as a good fish stock. Making your own fish stock takes just 45 minutes. You can ask your local monger for spent fish racks to use to make your stock.
3. Use fresh thyme.
Thyme is a key ingredient for Manhattan and New England chowder. Fresh thyme is more flavorful and aromatic than dried thyme. If you don’t want to take the time to remove the small leaves from the stem, don’t worry, you don’t have to! Instead, tie together four or five stems of thyme with kitchen twine and leave extra twine on the end. Place the thyme into the pot and tie the end of the twine around the handle of the chowder pot. While the chowder cooks, the leaves will fall off the stems from the heat. You will be able to easily remove the stems once you’re done cooking.
4. Use whole fish fillets, not scraps.
The best seafood chowder has tender, bite-sized pieces of seafood. To avoid overcooking it and ending up with rubbery bites of fish in your chowder, use whole fish fillets of a sturdy white fish like cod, cusk, haddock, hake, husk, or pollock, not scraps. Let the fillet simmer in the chowder. Wait to add clam bellies or scallops until near the end, after the potatoes have softened, since they cook faster. Then bring to a low simmer but do not boil.
5. Don’t skip the finishing touches.
Finishing touches like roasted red pepper, fresh corn or fresh sweet potato will set your chowder apart. If you are making New England chowder, the most important finishing touch is the cream added right at the end. While some recipes call for milk, your chowder will be richer and have a silkier texture if you add ¼ cup of heavy cream near the end of the process. Finish it off by adding chopped chives when you serve it along with oyster crackers or, for Manhattan chowder, a hearty slice of bread.
Looking for a good recipe? We recommend this seafood chowder from Food52.
Blushing New England Fish Chowder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
2 ounces Spanish chorizo, skin removed and chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 large Russet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 bay leaf
3 to 3 1/2 cups seafood stock
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
1 pound white flaky fish fillets (cod, cusk, haddock, hake, or pollock)
1⁄2 to 1 cup cream (or half-and-half, if you must)
2 tablespoons chopped chives (for garnish)
1. Crisp the Spanish chorizo in a large pot in the butter and oil. Then remove from pan.
2. Sweat the onion in the fat from the chorizo and add the salt, pepper, bay leaf and paprika.
3. Pour in the seafood stock and add the potato.
4. Cook the potato in the broth until tender. Then add the seafood and simmer. (Keep in mind that seafood cooks quickly. Fish will easily flake into pieces when done. Clams, scallops and fresh shrimp will become opaque when done.)
5. Add in the chopped roasted red peppers and cream a couple minutes before serving. Waiting until the end of the process to add the cream will prevent it from curdling.
Inspired to make seafood chowder tonight? Stop by City Fish Market for the freshest seafood in Connecticut!
Let us know in the comments how your chowder turned out or if you have any additional tips!