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 chowder of 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!
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’s two things you should know.
It puts the classic in a classic New England fish chowder. Otherwise, you’re just making a standard fish chowder with chicken broth or even worse, a crappy boxed seafood broth.
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 mimics 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.
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.
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.
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.