If you are looking for a comforting and easy meal, this classic New England fish chowder recipe fits the bill. This creamy chowder is made from simple ingredients, including cod, potatoes, onions, bacon, cream, and tastes like restaurant quality.
Chowders were once considered a poor man’s meal. Today they are elevated to an award-winning food served in fine restaurants. Like most of the cuisines of the world, what we know as New England fish chowder came out of common sense and necessity.
The Native Americans were combining fish and seafood with available vegetables, such as beans and corn into what we now call chowder long before it was considered a recipe. The New England settlers built upon this by adding ingredients that were familiar to them such as potatoes, salt pork, herbs, and eventually milk and cream.
Chowders were a common meal for the old-time fisherman who spent months at sea. It was made from foods that could be stored on the ship for a long period of time. Among those foods were onions, potatoes, salt pork, and sea biscuits or hardtack crackers. Combine these ingredients with salt cod or fresh fish and water and you have a basic chowder.
There are many variations of fish chowders throughout the world, and even among the many regions of New England. Old-fashioned recipes continue to be adapted to allow for new ingredients and adjusted to personal tastes. Use this recipe as a starting point and add your own twist.
What Goes into Fish Chowder
This classic New England style fish chowder is made from chunks of cod, diced potatoes, onions, bacon, corn, simple seasonings, and thickened with heavy cream.
Cod is the classic chowder fish with deep roots in New England, but any firm white fish filet will work such as haddock, halibut, or pollock. Ask for recommendations at the fish market or seafood department. Cook fresh fish within a day for the best flavor. Frozen fillets are also excellent for making fish chowder. Frozen fish are often frozen at sea shortly after harvesting. Thaw frozen fish overnight in the refrigerator before using.
I like using diced red potatoes from the garden and leave the skins on for color, but you can use any type of waxy, boiling, or all purpose potatoes that will hold up to boiling without falling apart. Consider using any type of baby or new potatoes, fingerling, or banana. Yukon gold is a great all-purpose potato that also works well and adds some extra starchiness to help thicken the chowder.
Salt Pork or Bacon
Traditional New England fish chowder recipes use salt pork, but that isn’t easy to find anymore. Bacon is a great substitute for adding a little fat, salt, and lots of flavor. If you are using salt pork, substitute about 4 ounces of diced salt pork for the bacon.
I used water in this recipe to keep it simple, but you can pump up the flavor by replacing the water with seafood stock, fish broth, or clam juice. You can make your own, or buy at the fish market right along with the fish and seafood.
Heavy cream will give you a thick and velvety chowder. However, I have also used half and half and regular whole milk with great results. If you are using milk, whisk in a tablespoon of flour into the bacon drippings and onions to help thicken the chowder, and add a little extra butter at the end for richer flavor.
Steps to Make Fish Chowder
This recipe is a reader favorite that was originally published back in June 2016. It has been updated with clearer instructions, new photos, and a video showing the cooking process. The recipe is the same, and can be found at the bottom of this article. Here are the illustrated steps for making New England fish chowder:
Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients
Unwrap the fish, rinse, and pat dry with clean paper towels. Check for stray pin bones, and cut into 2-inch pieces. Wash your potatoes well under clean running water, peel if desired, and cut into 1/4-inch cubes. Peel and chop the onion, and measure the remaining ingredients.
Step 2: Cook the Bacon
Heat a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan, place it on a plate, and set aside. When you are ready to serve the chowder, crumble the bacon and add it as a garnish.
Step 3: Sauté the Onions
Add the chopped onions to the bacon drippings in the pan and sauté until the onions have softened, about 3-5 minutes.
Deglaze the pan by adding about 1/2 cup of the water. As the liquid bubbles, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release the flavor infused brown bits.
Step 4: Boil the Potatoes
Add the remaining water and the diced potatoes. Bring the pan to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are partially cooked.
Step 5: Add the Cod
Add the fish and corn to the saucepan and simmer until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork and the potatoes are soft.
Step 6: Thicken with Cream
Add the cream, parsley, salt, pepper, and cook while stirring until the chowder thickens. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes longer.
Serve warm in bowls topped with a pat of butter, reserved bacon, green onions, and oyster crackers.
Got Leftovers? Chowder tastes even better after a day or two in the fridge. Let the chowder cool, and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you are ready to serve, reheat the chowder on the stove over low heat. Don’t let the chowder boil or the cream will separate.
Creamy New England Fish Chowder Recipe
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 4 cups water or fish or clam stock
- 1 pound red potatoes about 3 medium, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1 pound skinless cod fillets cut into 1/2- inch pieces
- 1 cup corn
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- green onions or chives as a garnish (optional)
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan, place it on a plate, and crumble once it is has cooled. Set aside.
- Add the onions to the bacon drippings in the pan and cook until the onions are soft, about 3-5 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan by adding about 1/2 cup of the water. As the liquid bubbles and simmers, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release the flavor infused brown bits.
- Add the rest of the water and the potatoes. Bring the pan to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are partially cooked, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the fish and corn to the saucepan and simmer until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the potatoes are soft, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the heavy cream, parsley, salt, pepper, and cook while stirring until the chowder thickens. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes longer.
- Serve warm in bowls topped with a pat of butter and reserved bacon.
- Makes 6 main-dish servings, or 10 side-dish servings.
You May Also Like:
- Slow Cooker New England Baked Beans
- Harvest Hearty Beef Stew
- Homemade Turkey Noodle Soup
- Tourtière: A French-Canadian Meat Pie Recipe
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