New England Fish Chowder

Consider this a sequel of sorts to the Boston Baked Beans (because it’s the flip side to finding salt pork in the grocery) or as a suppertime alternative to my clam chowder.

My goal was a simple and easy to cook fish chowder as authentic as I could make. The salt pork went a long way towards the goal. But you could also use bacon if need be.

I could not find common crackers, unfortunately, and Nabisco Crown Pilot Crackers are no longer made. They figured prominently in many of the recipes I found.

 

Salt Pork

Salt pork is, generally speaking, the same cuts of pork as bacon, though typically it’s sold as a block instead of slices, and it’s cured in salt (hence the name) instead of being smoked like bacon.

You can cook up a tiny piece of your salt pork and taste it for actual saltiness, if you’d like. However, five minutes in some boiling water, drained, then rinsed, removes the heavy saltiness for you with no guesswork. This also removes some of the smokiness of bacon, if that’s what you’re using, so either way.

 

Fish Stock

If you’re using fresh fish, or your fish monger / butcher can score you some parts which they normally throw out like the heads, spines, and tails, you can make your own fish stock. All the parts, a chopped up onion, celery stalk, carrot, leek if you have one laying around, and a couple quarts of water simmered for an hour makes fantastic stock and takes a lot less time than poultry, pork, or beef.

The boxed broth in the grocery is so-so, in my experience. If that’s what you have, buy twice as much as you need and reduce it by half over medium heat. Watch for it being salty and adjust as needed.

One company I know of sells a canned seafood stock that’s surprisingly good. Better Than Bouillon® has a fish base but it’s not organic, last I checked. And some folks use half clam juice, half water.

You do you.

 

Crackers

As I said, common crackers are sold in and around New England by various brands. But not in Kansas, Dorothy. At least that I’ve seen.

Nabisco sold Crown Pilot Crackers for a lot of years, starting in 1792, making it their oldest recipe, but not since 2008.

Both of these are essentially a form of hardtack or a ship’s biscuit. Crushed, they add some flavor but, more importantly, thicken the soup into more of what we expect from a chowder. For my recipe, I roughly crushed some soup crackers into the mix and let them dissolve. This added some flavor and a bit of salt. It didn’t thicken things much.

So, if your chowder also turns out a bit thin to your liking, closer to a soup, you can easily thicken it with a bit of roux (butter and flour cooked for a few minutes to get the floury taste out) or a slurry of cold water and a bit of corn starch or even potato starch (which is what I ended up doing).

 

Cooking

fish chowder ingredients arranged on a cutting board

Cut your salt pork into small cubes, maybe ½ inch. Use your Dutch oven or soup pot to blanch them in boiling water for 5 minutes.

Le Creuset just started selling a deeper round 5.25 qt Dutch oven that I grabbed at it’s introductory price — no idea if that price will last though. (I am seriously in love with this pot.)

Anywho, then drain the water, rinse the meat, and spoon it back into the pot along with a couple tablespoons of butter.

cubed potatoes and sliced onions on a cutting board

If you use a thick-skinned potato, like a russet, you’ll want to peel it first. For me, russets break down a bit too much and while that helps thicken the chowder, I prefer the texture of a Yukon Gold myself.

Some people prefer their onion diced rather than sliced. Your call. It tastes the same.

Add the sliced onion, bay leaf, and a good pinch or two of salt. Let that cook over medium heat for long enough to tenderize the onions but not brown them.

salt pork, onions, and a bay leaf cooking in a pot

Add the crushed crackers to absorb the butter and pork fat that’s left in the pot. Mix well.

Then add the stock and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the potatoes. Cook for 20 minutes or so until they’re mostly tender. Test by tasting one to make sure it’s done.

Stirring continuously, add the milk and then the fish. Let that cook about 5 minutes – don’t over cook the fish.

Taste, season with salt and pepper as desired.

Oh yeah, discard the bay leaf. No one wants to eat that.

Garnish with some chopped parsley or more crackers and serve with a good crusty bread to mop it all up.

Bowl of fish chowder with a small plate of crackers in the background.

New England Fish Chowder

Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Bill
A simple traditional take on fish chowder inspired by old New England recipes. Nothing fancy, just exceptionally nourishing and comforting flavors.
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Ingredients

  • 4 oz salt pork or bacon, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup crushed cracker crumbs
  • 4 cups fish or seafood stock
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled (if thick skinned) and cubed
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 pound fish fillets, skinless, use firm fish such as cod or haddock, cut into bite-size pieces
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a Dutch oven or your favorite soup pot, blanch the cubed salt pork (or bacon) for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse.
  2. Add the pork, butter, onion, and bay leaf to the pot. Let cook over medium heat until the onion is mostly tender, about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the crushed cracker crumbs and stir to absorb any leftover fat.
  4. Raise the heat, add the stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for doneness.
  5. Stir in the milk, add the fish, and let cook for about 5 minutes, taking care not to overcook the fish.
  6. Discard the bay leaf.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  8. If you need to thicken it further, use a small slurry of corn or potato starch or a simple butter and flour roux.

Bowl of fish chowder with a small plate of crackers in the background.

Be well, friends, and thank you for stopping by. Cook for each other and until next time, peace.
Bill (signature)

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12 thoughts on “New England Fish Chowder

  1. As I’m setting over here with near freezing temps expected tonight, that bowl of NE Chowder looks mighty tasty. Nice recipe to honor that fine piece of salt pork.

  2. This chowder sounds amazing, Bill! I’ve always been skeptical of trying to make chowder here at home, although it’s on my list every year. Laura isn’t a huge fan of fish stock, and that puts a damper on recipes like fish chowder. But maybe I just need to make this one for her and see if her taste buds have changed! And if not? Well I get the whole pot to myself, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Looks delicious, my friend!

  3. Sounds tremendous! I’ve never made a fish stock before. I don’t know why, but it sort of frightens me. I love, love, love fish chowder, though – way more than clam chowder. Too bad about the crackers. I guess you’ll have to figure out how to make them! What were you thinking, using store-bought crackers in the first place? You know, coincidentally, my cousin from Colorado just told me the other day, “I’m seriously in love with this pot.” But I’m pretty sure he meant something different. 😉

  4. I’m a huge fan of New England clam chowder, so this fish chowder looks delicious to me. NB: And to be honest, I like the New England style much more than the Manhattan tomato-based chowders, even if I am a New Yorker by birth. Just don’t tell the folks back home… 😉

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