In my high school and early college years, my buddy and I would make the 60 minute trek into San Francisco for nothing more than a steamy bowl of clam chowder in a bread bowl. And while this recipes has as much in common with Boudin chowder as KFC does to the French Laundry, the memories fish chowder invokes when I make it are what matters. This isn’t your usual “stand a spoon upright” chowder. There is nothing thick, lumpy or fussy about this soup. It’s a simple, luxurious blend of fish, onions and potatoes. Serve on a cloudy day with a crusty loaf of bread and some good wine.
Side note: When it comes to stock, any stock… you’re better off making it yourself. When it comes to fish stock, make it using the head and bones of a white fish like cod. Salmon stock is another story and I wouldn’t use it for this. While it has other applications (risotto, salmon chowder, etc), this is not one of them, due to the strong flavoring inherent with salmon stocks.
Simple Fish Chowder
- 2 slices of bacon, pancetta or salted pork, diced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 6 to 8 sprigs of fresh summer savory, tarragon or thyme, leaves removed and chopped
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 -3 large russet potatoes, cubed
- 5 cups chicken stock or fish stock (avoid water… it’s soup after all… the broth is star)
- 3 pounds cod or haddock
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- Salt and pepper
- Garnish with parsley and chive or an herb oil
1. Heat a heavy pot over medium heat and add the diced bacon. Cook until golden brown and some fat has been rendered. Remove the cooked bacon with a spoon and transfer to a plate, leaving the fat in the pot.
2. Add the butter, onions, thyme, tarragon or savory, and bay leaf to the pot and sauté, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or so, until the onions are soft, but not brown.
3. Add the potatoes and stock. If the potatoes aren’t covered, either add some more stock to cover. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover, and cook the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes. The center of the potatoes should be firm while the outside should be soft. If you like your soup thicker, smash some potatoes, stir and cook a bit longer. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Reduce heat and add the fish. Cook over low for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the soup rest for 15 minutes (this will continue to cook the fish).
5. Stir in the cream. Check the seasoning. When ready to serve, warm some bowls in the over. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with diced bacon and herb oil or parsley and chives.