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How to Make Boston Fish Chowder

Chowder

Did you know that Boston fish chowder was the predecessor of New England clam chowder? In this recipe you'll learn to make it in the classic manner, thick and creamy with salt pork, chunks of fresh fish, potatoes, onions and herbs.

Did you know that Boston fish chowder was the predecessor of New England clam chowder?

The first Boston fish chowder recipe was printed in the Boston Evening Post in 1751 while the first recipe for a clam chowder was printed in 1832 (source). By the second half of the 19th-century clams became the more popular choice and the rest, they say, is history. Nevertheless, fish chowder remains a popular chowder alternative in New England.

What is a Boston Fish Chowder?

It’s basically the creamy, flour-thickened style of chowder, similar to an authentic New England clam chowder, except, of course, with fish instead of clams.

Good quality versions of both Boston fish chowder and New England clam chowder are also united in their use of salt pork (or bacon), yellow onions, Yukon gold potatoes, and most importantly, real, homemade broths and stocks.

Before I get to the recipe, let me share two reasons why you should consider making a Boston fish chowder (instead of the more popular New England clam chowder) as well as two key recipe tips.

Two Reasons You Should Make a Boston Fish Chowder

1. Fresh fish is better than canned clams

I think there’s a reason most people prefer a clam chowder over a fish chowder – the tender, meaty texture of clams is just so good. But let’s face it. Most people don’t use fresh, whole clams when they make clam chowder. Rather, they turn to the convenience of canned clams.

Well, canned clams kinda suck (unless you like eating rubber).

They’re not nearly as juicy and tender as whole clams.

Did you know that Boston fish chowder was the predecessor of New England clam chowder? In this recipe you'll learn to make it in the classic manner, thick and creamy with salt pork, chunks of fresh fish, potatoes, onions and herbs.

Well, with fish chowder, just go pick up any cut of fresh whitefish and you’re good to go. Really, it doesn’t matter what type of whitefish you choose. Cod and haddock are popular choices but almost any whitefish has similar, mild, clean flavors. Hake, pollock, blackfish, monkfish, halibut, tautog, or even flounder are all good choices too.

2.  You’ll learn to make fish broth 

Clam broth, also known as clam juice, is pretty straightforward. Most people just buy it in jars, and you could certainly use it in lieu of fish broth in this recipe. But ideally, with a Boston fish chowder, you want to use a fish broth (also called fish stock) and that’s a great reason to learn to make your own.

A homemade fish broth will really elevate your chowder to another level. Few people make fish broth at home anymore but it’s ridiculously easy!

Here are 5 reasons why you should make fish broth. 

Two Recipe Tips

1. Use salt pork instead of bacon

Salt pork is cured with salt and is fattier and saltier than bacon. It usually comes in a large block or slab. The extra fattiness is more ideal to use in chowder because the fat renders out, which makes for a great cooking fat at the same time adding a wonderful, smoky and salty flavor.

Salt pork is not always readily available in supermarkets so if you can’t find it, bacon is a suitable alternative. If you’re using bacon, try to find or use fattier pieces.

2. Flour is a great thickener

Adding some flour will create that classic, extra-thick texture that most people love. I certainly do. Make sure to add the flour to the salt pork, onions, and celery, as described below in the recipe. Many recipes call for adding the flour later in the process by first mixing it with water and then adding it to the soup. This has a tendency to both create lumps and too much of a pasty flavor.

Obviously, if you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten, you’ll have to skip using flour. Not to worry, this recipe will still be creamy and taste amazing. If you’re not going to use flour, throw in some extra potatoes and mash them on the side of the stockpot. The starch from the potatoes will help thicken the soup.

How to Make a Boston Fish Chowder

How to Make Boston Fish Chowder

Boston Fish Chowder

The predecessor of the more famous clam chowder, this recipe is almost exactly the same except for the use of fish and fish broth. 

Course Main Course, Soup
Cuisine American, New England
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4
Author Craig Fear

Ingredients

  • 3-4 ounces salt pork, diced or 3-4 pieces bacon, chopped into small pieces (use fattier strips if possible)
  • 2 TBSPs butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 2-3 stalks celery, chopped fine
  • 2 TBSP fresh thyme leaves, about 6-8 sprigs, leaves removed or 1 TBSP dried thyme
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 TBSPs flour, optional
  • 3 cups fish broth
  • 2 cups potatoes, diced
  • 1 to 1.5  pounds meaty white fish – cod, haddock, hake, etc
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste

Instructions

  1. Saute salt pork over medium heat until the fat renders, about 5 minutes. If using bacon, saute a few minutes until it starts to brown but be careful not to burn it.
  2. Add butter, onions and celery, thyme and bay leaves and saute about 5 minutes more, until onions become soft.
  3. Add flour (if using), mix well and stir frequently for 2-3 minutes, making sure not to burn.
  4. Add fish broth and stir well, further incorporating the flour mixture, making sure there are no lumps. Add potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 – 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Add the fish and simmer a few minutes until it is cooked through.
  6. Add cream, gently stir (so as not to break apart the tender chunks of fish) and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  7. Serve in individual bowls and add fresh parsley and additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Two More Fish Chowder Recipes

Boston fish chowder may be the most popular style of fish chowder in New England but there are styles and recipes too! If you want to up your chowder game and try something different, check out my Bluefish Chowder or my Portuguese Fish Chowder recipe.

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About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.

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