Classic New England Fish Chowder

Seafood Soups

Classic New England Fish Chowder
Photo by Lynne Graves from New England Soups from the Sea

Did you know that New England fish chowder was the original chowder? It actually pre-dates clam chowders by at least a hundred years. If you’re a food nerd like myself check out A History of Chowder: Four Centuries of a New England Meal. This great little book traces its development from its origins in the colonial era to today. Of course, today, clam chowders reign supreme and are the preferred type of chowder for most people.

But a classic New England fish chowder can easily rival a clam chowder if it’s made in the traditional manner. The problem is, very few people make it this way anymore. This includes most restaurants!

How to Make a New England Fish Chowder Demo

I did a Facebook Live cooking demo recently. It was meant more for a live, interactive class and not a quick YouTube video. But I decided to upload it anyway. If you have the time to watch it, you can clearly see how it all comes together.

If you don’t have time to watch it, just head down to the recipe. But before you do, please understand, in order to make a classic New England fish chowder, there are two things you should know.

The Importance of a Homemade Fish Stock

It puts the classic in a classic New England fish chowder and countless types of seafood soup recipes. Otherwise, you’re just making a standard fish chowder with chicken broth or even worse, a crappy boxed seafood broth.

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Don’t get me wrong. A standard fish chowder made with chicken broth can still be good. Chicken broth is a decent substitute for fish stock. Its umami flavor and texture mimic fish stock pretty well. And I get it, boxed broths are convenient. Another good substitute for fish stock is some bottled clam juice diluted in a little water.

Just please don’t use any type of boxed seafood broth. Trust me, they’re all god awful. Seafood broths do NOT package well. They lose their fresh aromas and flavors and turn overly fishy and flat. It’s why you’ll see so many added flavorings and preservatives in boxed seafood broths.

Nothing can surpass a homemade fish stock made the right way. Yes, it’s an extra step but it will really elevate your New England fish chowder beyond the legions of average-tasting fish chowders.

Why You Should NOT Use a Thickener

This is the second key to making a classic New England fish chowder. When you thicken a chowder, typically with a roux of butter and flour, you can easily obscure the flavor of the fish stock which you worked so hard to make. The beauty of a classic New England fish chowder is the fresh ocean flavors of fish! Let’s not screw it up with an overly pasty, sludgy texture. This is one of my big pet peeves with most restaurant-style chowders.

But I also understand that most people grew up craving a thickened chowder. In my video above, I do give you the option to use a slurry of potato starch as a thickener. I think it’s easier to control the thickness compared to a roux. You can check it out starting at around the 27:40 mark.

Kitchen Tools You’ll Need

Classic New England Fish Chowder Recipe

Classic New England Fish Chowder

Classic New England Fish Chowder

A classic New England fish chowder only requires six essential ingredients – bacon, onions, potatoes, fish stock, fish and cream. But it's the fish stock that's the key to making your fish chowder truly stand out from the legions of average tasting chowders.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people
Author Craig Fear


  • 4 ounces salt pork or about 4 large strips of fatty bacon
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter if needed
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow onions roughly diced into ½ inch pieces, about 2 cups total
  • 5-6 sprigs thyme
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • 1 pound medium starch potatoes such as Yukon gold or reds about 3 cups, roughly cut into small cubes
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 pounds of lean mild whitefish fillets such as cod, haddock, pollack, hake, flounder, black sea bass, halibut, etc.
  • 1 – 2 cups heavy cream

Optional Seasonings, to taste

  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh chives
  • Fresh parsley


  1. Heat the bacon or salt pork in a medium-sized stock pot over low heat until a few tablespoons render out. Raise the heat to medium and brown the meatier pieces, being careful not to burn. Remove the browned pieces with a slotted spoon but leave the fat in the pot.
  2. Add the onions, thyme sprigs and bay leaf to the fat and saute about 5 minutes until onions are softened and translucent. Add butter, if needed, for additional cooking fat.
  3. Add fish stock and bring to a boil.
  4. Add potatoes, cover pot and simmer for 10-12 minutes until potatoes are cooked through.
  5. Add sea salt, to taste.
  6. Add fish and simmer gently for a few minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let the chowder sit until the fish is cooked through. Thicker and denser pieces of fish will need a little more time to cook than thinner and flakier pieces.
  7. Once the fish is cooked, add 1 cup heavy cream, stir gently and taste. Add up to one more cup of heavy cream, to desired taste.
  8. Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste.

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Classic New England Fish Chowder

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.