Recipes for Pacific salmon chowder; shrimp and vegetable chowder; Boston-style creamy clam chowder; crab chowder with bacon and chives; corn chowder with chive oil; and chicken and corn chowder.
AUSTIN, Texas — Growing up near coastal waters is not a requirement for loving chowder.
The chunky stew might have originated on French and English fishing boats in New England and Nova Scotia, but its popularity grew as North Americans moved west and still longed for the ocean. Canned clams made it easier to make traditional chowder when fresh is not available, but home cooks started adapting their chowders to reflect other ingredients they could source locally, including salmon, chicken and corn.
Brooke Dojny, author of “Chowderland: Hearty Soups & Stews with Sides & Salads to Match” (Storey Publishing, $14.95), defines chowder as a chunky, hearty soup, usually made with salt pork or bacon, onions, potatoes, the main ingredient (often seafood) and a liquid.
The word probably comes from the French term for caldron, “chaudiere,” and it’s one of those one-pot comfort foods that people seem to have an affinity for, at least once we cast aside any memories of pasty chowders so white and thick that they might as well be cream gravy.
Most Read Life Stories
- An all-you-can-eat secret at one of Seattle’s best restaurants: brunch at Joule
- Is Seattle ready for the $18 sandwiches at Dingfelder’s Delicatessen?
- Excluding boy, mom from playground fun rated ‘terrible’
- Rant & Rave: Don't park so close to me
- Travel Wise | No, you can’t (usually) take airplane pillows home with you
Originally, the stew was served on ships and, as such, was thickened with hardtack, those tooth-cracking biscuits that took forever to spoil. Dojny writes that chowder first appeared in an American cookbook in 1800, with ingredients including bass, salt pork and crackers, with a side dish of potatoes.
Once potatoes were more widely available, cooks started using them to thicken their chowders and serving the biscuits or crackers on the side.
Dojny offers dozens of variations on the classics in her new book, as well as general tips for improving the chowders you’re already making.
She writes about regional chowders made from geoduck, salmon, mussels, crabs, clams and shrimp. In Rhode Island, they serve a clear-broth chowder with clam fritters, while Manhattan-style clam chowder has a clear broth with tomatoes and, occasionally, condensed tomato soup instead of milk. To show just how versatile this singular soup can be, the Maine-based author includes a recipe for a chowder made with corned beef and cabbage.
If you go the traditional route, canned clams, bottled clam juice and store-bought seafood broth will save you quite a bit of time and shopping. But an entirely homemade chowder, with freshly steamed clams or another protein of your choice, such as smoked salmon, could be a fine centerpiece for a welcoming New Year’s Eve party.
One of the biggest troubles with chowders is that if you add dairy, from heavy cream to skim milk, it can “break” after you add it to the pot. Dojny says that curdling can happen more often with low-fat or skim milk because there isn’t enough fat in the liquid to bind to the potatoes and/or flour. The fresher the dairy, the less likely to curdle, too, Dojny says.
Any kind of dairy can break if you boil the chowder too hard. If your milk does curdle, you can strain out the solids and put the liquid in a blender to bring it all back together. You can skip the dairy altogether and still get that sweet cream flavor by boiling corncobs or using a nondairy milk, such as coconut.
When it comes to the thickening agent, floury potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, will release the most amount of starch and help thicken the stew, but you can supplement with flour or a flour substitute. You can use a red potato, but it won’t thicken the broth as well as the starchy kind.
Bacon or salt pork has been part of chowder from the beginning, but Dojny points out that you can used smoked fish (or, not to get ahead of ourselves, leftover smoked Thanksgiving turkey), which can lend a similar flavor without the pork.
Rendering the bacon first gives you a flavorful base on which to start building the soup. If you are making a retro pot with salt pork, you might need a little extra butter. (Slice the rind off the salt pork and then dice the meat. You can also pulse it in a food processor to get the meat into smaller pieces.)
No matter what you end up throwing in the pot, don’t forget the crackers, even if just as an homage to the shipmates who didn’t have much of a choice of what went into their chowder.
PACIFIC SALMON CHOWDER
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup sliced scallions
2 tablespoons flour
4 medium-sized white potatoes, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon dried dill weed
¼ teaspoon dill seed
4 cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound salmon fillet, skinned and cut into chunks
1. In a large pan heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and scallions; saute three minutes. Add the flour and stir two minutes.
2. Add the potatoes, dill weed and seed, the milk, salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat 40 minutes.
3. Add the salmon and simmer an additional 10 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through. Adjust the seasonings and serve.
— Adapted by The Seattle Times in 1992 from “Spirit of the Harvest — North American Indian Cooking” by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs.
SHRIMP AND VEGETABLE CHOWDER
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large rib celery, finely diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup clam broth
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 cup evaporated milk
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
¾ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into ½-inch cubes
½ pound cooked shrimp
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1. In a 5-to-6-quart pot or Dutch oven, put the potatoes, celery, onion, garlic and clam broth. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir the flour into the vegetables and cook for two minutes. Mash the vegetables with a fork.
2. Stir the milk, evaporated milk, corn, red pepper, oregano, Tabasco, salt and several grindings of black pepper. Bring just to a simmer, cover and bake in a preheated 250-degree oven for 40 minutes. Stir once during the baking time.
3. Remove the pot from the oven and stir in the tomatoes and shrimp. Let sit for five minutes, garnish with parsley and serve.
— From The Seattle Times archives, 1992
BOSTON-STYLE CREAMY CLAM CHOWDER
For this classic chowder, dried thyme is more traditional than fresh, but feel free to use either. If you have fresh clams, scrub 5 to 6 pounds and steam them in 4 cups of water just until they open, five to 10 minutes. Then scrape out the clam meat and chop into pea-size pieces. Pour the cooking liquid into a glass measuring cup, let any sediment settle, and pour off 3 cups of the clean broth to use in place of the bottled clam juice.
4 oz. salt pork or bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice or ground in the food processor (about 1 cup)
4-6 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed
1 large onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups bottled clam juice
2 cups water, plus more if needed
1 pound all-purpose potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh
1 bay leaf, broken in half
3 cups chopped hard-shelled clams with their liquor
1½ cups heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Cook the salt pork or bacon with the butter in a large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crisp and the fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and reserve. If you don’t have 8 tablespoons of fat in the pot, make up the difference with additional butter.
2. Add the onion and celery and cook over medium heat until they begin to soften, about five minutes. Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Add the clam juice and water and bring to a boil over high heat, whisking until smooth.
3. Add the potatoes, thyme and bay leaf, and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the clams and cream, cook for five minutes, and remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the chowder sit at cool room temperature for at least an hour or, better yet, refrigerate for up to two days.
4. Reheat over low heat, adding more broth cream, or water if the chowder is too thick. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with parsley and pass the reserved pork bits (reheated in the microwave) for sprinkling on the chowder if desired.
— Adapted by the Austin American-Statesman from “Chowderland: Hearty Soups & Stews with Sides & Salads to Match,” by Brooke Dojny (Storey Publishing, $14.95).
CRAB CHOWDER WITH BACON AND CHIVES
Fresh crab is one of life’s best indulgences. Add that crab to a steaming bowl of hearty chowder, top it with crispy bacon and chives and you’ve got a little piece of paradise. This chowder is dairy- and grain-free but thick and creamy just the same.
5 tablespoons tapioca flour
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cups organic chicken broth
3 cups flax, almond or coconut milk
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon hot- pepper sauce
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce or coconut aminos
1 teaspoon onion powder
Sea salt to taste
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
1 pound cooked bacon, chopped
Handful of fresh chives, minced
1. In a deep stockpot, whisk together the tapioca flour and olive oil over medium-high heat for three minutes. Add in the onion, celery, garlic and red bell pepper and continue cooking until the vegetables soften, about eight minutes. You will want to stir this mixture regularly as the flour mixture can easily stick to the pan if left unattended. Once the vegetables are softened, pour in the broth and milk. Stir well until any and all lumps are incorporated.
2. Add the black pepper, hot-pepper sauce, Worcestershire, onion powder and sea salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat and allow to cook for about 30 minutes. Gently incorporate the lump crabmeat and stir. Crab is delicate and can break apart easily, so take care. Continue to cook on high for another 10 minutes, or until piping hot. Serve garnished with the crispy bacon and minced chives.
— Adapted by the Austin American-Statesman from “Down South Paleo: Delectable Southern Recipes Adapted for Gluten-free, Paleo Eaters,” by Jennifer Robins (Page Street Publishing, $21.99).
CORN CHOWDER WITH CHIVE OIL
This corn chowder has a touch of sweetness, thanks to the combination of fresh corn and a splash of coconut milk. Potatoes add thickness — a trick you can use to make almost any soup creamier. After the soup is cooked, blend it a bit for a chunky soup, or completely for a silky smooth soup. The chive oil has a delicate flavor that adds freshness and balances the sweetness of the corn.
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound new potatoes, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Kernels from 6 ears of corn (about 3½ cups)
4 cups vegetable broth, plus more if needed
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the chive oil:
¼ cup olive oil
1 oz. chives, coarsely chopped
1. To make the chowder, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until barely tender, four to five minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the potatoes and paprika and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes.
2. Stir in the corn, broth and salt and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are very tender, about 25 minutes, adding a bit more broth if the soup starts to resemble a thick stew. However, don’t add too much additional broth, or the final soup will be too thin.
3. Using an immersion blender (or using a regular blender and working in batches), blend the soup until it is about half pureed, with some texture and visible pieces of potato remaining. Stir in the coconut milk, then season with black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings if desired.
4. To make the chive oil, put the olive oil and chives in a blender and process until smooth. Season with salt to taste. Serve the chowder with the chive oil drizzled over the top.
— Adapted by the Austin American-Statesman from “Food52 Vegan: 60 Vegetable-Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen,” by Gena Hamshaw (Ten Speed Press, $22.99).
CHICKEN AND CORN CHOWDER
2 small boneless and skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 medium rib celery, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons flour
¾ cup low-fat milk
1 cup frozen corn kernels
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1. Cover the chicken with cold water in a medium saucepan and bring just to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool slightly and shred finely. Set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; saute five minutes to soften. Add the celery and red pepper; saute five minutes.
3. Stir in the potatoes, broth, water, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 15 minutes.
4. While the soup is cooking make a white sauce: Heat the butter in a small pan. Stir in the flour and cook one minute. Add the milk and stir until slightly thickened.
5. Stir the chicken, corn and white sauce into the soup. Simmer five minutes. Stir in the parsley and serve.
— From The Seattle Times archives, 1992