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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
New England Fish Chowder
- 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
- In a Dutch oven or your favorite soup pot, blanch the cubed salt pork (or bacon) for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse.
- 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.
- Add the crushed cracker crumbs and stir to absorb any leftover fat.
- 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.
- Stir in the milk, add the fish, and let cook for about 5 minutes, taking care not to overcook the fish.
- Discard the bay leaf.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
- If you need to thicken it further, use a small slurry of corn or potato starch or a simple butter and flour roux.