When most people think of a seafood soup recipe they think of something like New England clam chowder or lobster bisque. But what if you could make your own type of seafood soup recipe? And what if it could be just as delicious as chowder or bisque? And what if you could make it 30 minutes or less from simple leftovers?
Do you have any leftover frozen shrimp or fish? Do you have a box of chicken broth and a can of diced tomatoes in your pantry? How about some bottled clam juice? Onions, garlic, and greens? Lemon or lime? Fresh herbs and spices? You’re good to go!
The seafood soup recipe I’m going to share today is inspired by a chapter in my new cookbook, New England Soups from the Sea. While most of the chapters are based on time-proven formulas, like chowders and seafood stews, the chapter titled “Brothy Soups” contains recipes that are less well-known. A few examples would be a Tomato-Swordfish Soup with Fresh Italian Herbs, a New England-Style Hot and Sour Scallops Soup, and a Blue Mussels Mediterranean-Style Soup.
I created those recipes by improvising from several categories of ingredients and then adjusting and tweaking things to create unique and interesting combinations. Once you know your choices, it’s really quite easy to create your own seafood soup recipe. The possibilities are endless!
What follows are 5 different categories of choices. You’ll see my choices at the bottom of each category which I’ll be using in the video demo below. But the idea here is to choose what appeals to you, or in many cases, what you have in your fridge and pantry. Watch the video to see how to put it all together and use it as a springboard to create your own unique recipe!
This is the foundation. It will partially determine the degree of seafood flavor in your soup. But choosing your broth/stock may also boil down (pun intended) to time and convenience. The cool thing though about seafood soups are that different types of stocks and broths are interchangeable. You can’t go wrong with any three of the following:
Chicken broth is actually a decent choice for a seafood soup. Its umami flavor closely mimics seafood stocks like fish stock but it has a more neutral flavor. It’s a great choice if you don’t want a pronounced seafood flavor in your soup. It’s also a great choice for convenience and simplicity purposes. A homemade broth is best but a good quality store-bought chicken broth is OK too.
A good choice if you want a bolder, brinier flavor in your seafood soup recipe. Similar to chicken broth, you can purchase it in stores or make a superior version at home. Know that there are some good bottled clam juice (same as clam broth) brands but there are some really lousy ones too. My post on clam juice reviews the five most common store-bought brands. It also shows you how to make a homemade clam broth.
Fish stock sits somewhere in the middle between a chicken broth and a clam broth. Properly made at home, it has a delicate, fresh ocean flavor and aroma. It adds beautiful albeit subtle background flavors, especially in purely fish-based soups. But it’s best made fresh as its delicate flavors are easily lost when packaged. That said, Aneto Fish Broth is an excellent replacement if you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own. They’re the only company that uses real ingredients and is somehow able to preserve an outstanding flavor.
My Broth Choice
I often have fish stock in my freezer but I’m completely out of it right now so I’m going with a quart of Aneto Fish Broth. I’m also going to add one bottle of Bar Harbor clam broth to give the soup a briny boost.
It could be one type of fish or shellfish or multiple types. Greater variety typically adds more flavor profiles, especially whole shellfish, like clams and mussels. They release their ultra-flavorful liquids into the soup when their shells open.
Don’t be afraid to try a new type of seafood! Embracing the diversity of our national fisheries (which are very well-managed and sustainable), helps local fishermen and fisherwomen. If you live in New England, instead of cod or haddock, try monkfish, hake, black sea bass, or even flounder.
Instead of farmed Atlantic salmon, which has negative environmental effects and is mostly shipped from overseas, try striped bass, bluefish, mackerel, or swordfish. All species of fish are interchangeable in seafood soup recipes.
If you’re going to choose shrimp, please stop eating shrimp from abroad. I know it’s cheap and convenient but there are environmental consequences to farmed shrimp too. Seek out US-based wild-caught shrimp. Or choose shellfish that are local to you. There are dozens of different types of clams, mussels, scallops, crabs, squid, and even snails, that make great seafood soup recipes.
My Seafood Choice
The photo above shows my three choices – a pound of haddock, a pound of wild-caught US shrimp, and a pound of local littleneck clams.
You can’t go wrong with onions and garlic. Fennel has a nice anise flavor that complements seafood well. Carrots, celery, peppers, corn, and peas are all good options. Don’t forget greens like spinach and kale. Starchy vegetables like potatoes will add bulk.
Don’t overthink this! Typically, whatever you have in your fridge will work just fine.
My Choice of Veggies
I’m going with onion, fennel, and garlic.
All four choices are great! As the many types of clam chowder can attest, a tomato-based seafood soup (like a Manhattan clam chowder) can be equally delicious as a cream-based one (like a New England clam chowder) which can be as equally delicious as a tomato AND cream-based one (like a Long Island clam chowder) which can be just as fantastic as a purely broth-based seafood soup recipe (like a Rhode Island clam chowder).
It’s totally up to you. Whatever your taste buds desire or crave is the right choice. For a tomato-based soup, you’ll need canned tomatoes, typically diced or crushed. For dairy, you’ll need half and half or better yet, heavy cream. Milk, especially conventional milk, is too thin and will not add enough flavor.
I should also add that seafood soups often include a little dry white wine, typically simmered with the veggies before adding the broth. It’s optional but highly recommended. I do include white wine in my recipe below.
I’m going for a cream-based version. Now when I say, “cream-based,” I don’t mean ultra-rich and creamy, like a chowder. I’m not thickening my recipe with flour, so it’s still a rather brothy soup. I only add a little cream (about a cup) which gives the soup a slightly richer flavor. By all means, omit the cream if you prefer.
Seasonings include spices, herbs, citrus, and so forth. Now I can’t tell you exactly what seasonings to use or in what amounts. But what I can tell you is to not be afraid to experiment. Through experience cooking, your nose and tongue will start to gravitate towards different combinations that you like.
There’s no right or wrong. You’ll learn through trial and error. Needless to say, salt and freshly ground pepper, enliven just about any soup recipe. Sometimes that’s all you need. But there’s a handful of things that tend to work really well with seafood soups.
Allspice, mace, saffron, juniper berries, and fennel seeds are great seafood-friendly spices that add wonderful depth and complexity to seafood soups, especially broth and/or dairy-based soups. Paprika, red pepper flakes, or other dried chile pepper spices can add some nice zing to tomato-based soups. Some seafood spice blends can work well depending on the recipe. I like Frontier Organic Seafood Seasoning blend in cream-based soups.
It’s hard to go wrong with fresh herbs in a seafood soup recipe. Thyme, basil, dill, oregano, parsley, and rosemary are all great. Heartier herbs like bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary can handle more heat and are typically simmered with the stock/broth. More delicate, leafier herbs like basil and dill should be added at the end to better retain their flavors.
The acidity and sweetness of citrus enhance and brightens the flavor of many seafood soups, especially broth-based ones. It’s hard to go wrong with lemon juice, but lime juice and be just as good depending on the recipe.
You might also choose the zest of the citrus peel, which adds a more subtle citrus character than the juice. In that case, orange zest is a good choice along with lemon or lime zest.
Apple cider vinegar can be a great finishing touch in tomato-based seafood soups, especially one with lots of zest and spice like this Portuguese clam stew or this Portuguese squid stew. Hot sauce, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, or fish sauce are other possible seasonings.
My Seasoning Choices
As shown in the photo above, I’m going with bay leaf, allspice berries (or ground allspice), and saffron, which are simmered with the broth. And then I add lemon juice, fresh basil, and fresh oregano at the end.
Please note, saffron is the most expensive spice out there so it’s OK to skip it. But you typically only need a pinch. A jar of saffron, which goes for around $15 to $20, can last a while.
Saffron’s bright, floral flavor is such a great addition to many types of seafood soups so I recommend have some on hand. Frontier Saffron is a good choice.
Now let me show you how this all comes together in about 20 minutes. Below the video, you’ll see a printable recipe with specific ingredient amounts. Enjoy!
Step 1. Simmer your veggies in olive oil over medium heat until they soften and become fragrant. Always add garlic in the last minute as it can easily burn. Add a little dry white wine and simmer it until it reduces by about a third.
Note: if you’re using leafy greens, like spinach or kale, add them after step 3.
Step 2. For a tomato-based soup, add a 14-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes. Otherwise, add your broth/stock, and any spices or hearty herbs like bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Step 3. Add your seafood.
Step 4. Add cream, if using, and stir in.
Step 5. Add your seasonings. Taste, and adjust the seasonings to your desired tastes. This is where it’s fun to tweak and experiment.
Optional last step. Serve with a side of crusty bread or any bread of your choice!
This simple seafood soup recipe is intended to suit your tastes and can be made from a wide range of ingredients, including leftovers.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized stock pot. Saute onions and fennel for 5 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes.
Add white wine, raise the heat and simmer for several minutes until reduced slightly.
Add fish stock, optional clam broth, bay leaf, allspice, and saffron and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on.
Add clams, cover, and simmer until the shells open, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add whitefish and shrimp and simmer for about 5 minutes or until fish and shrimp are cooked through.
Add 2 TBSPs lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice, to taste.
Add the fresh herbs and stir in.
Salt and pepper, to taste.
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.