Chowder is a dish that has stood the test of time since it’s so adaptable. It’s incredibly popular from coast to coast
In fact, Seafood chowder was even the backbone of a major fundraiser for the Vancouver Aquarium—that’s how much British Columbians LOVE their chowder! See the article by Vancouver Magazine here. All the way over on the East Coast, the soup is celebrated with its very own Chowder Trail in Nova Scotia.
The most commonly known is clam chowder, made in either New England or Manhattan style. New England style is the version with the rich, creamy white base, while Manhattan style is made with a lighter tomato-based broth. Both types are very hearty chowders that start with a base of bacon or salt pork and a mixture of potatoes, celery, carrots and onions.
You can make New England style chowders with heavy cream or lighten it up with 2% milk. You can stop at clams or add whatever seafood you love best. You can also skip the seafood entirely in favour of a combination like bacon, chicken and corn for a more down-home style chowder.
For a spicy take on chowder, we’ve also included a Bermudian favourite, the Bermuda Fish Chowder. Made with spicy bird peppers marinated in Sherry and served with dark rum, it’s a great example of how adaptable chowder is.
Where Did Chowder Come From?
Chowder used to be considered food for poor men and was made of whatever was on hand at the time, thickened with biscuits or stale crackers. With roots to the Latin word calderia (cooking pot or cauldron) and in French, Chaudière (cauldron) chowders were a one pot meal made from whatever was fished for, hunted, or grown in the gardens.
It’s believed that chowder originated as a fish chowder in Brittany, northwest France, and Cornwall, in Southwestern England as early as the 16th century. It can also be traced back to Natives along the Atlantic Coast of North America. Over the decades and centuries, chowder has been refined and transformed into many different varieties. Read the full history of chowder here.
Three of the Best, Crowd-Pleasing Chowders to Try
Straight from the Dairy Farmers of Canada, this is a classic, rich seafood chowder.
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) butter
- 2 stalks chopped celery
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp (5 mL) fresh dill or thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 lg Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and diced)
- 2 C water or fish stock
- 1/3 C (8 mL) all-purpose flour
- 3 C (750 mL) milk
- 2 C (500 mL) chopped raw skinless fish fillets or cooked seafood
- 2 Tbsp (3 mL) lemon juice
- Crumbled whole grain crackers
In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat; sauté celery, onion, bay leaf, dill, ½ tsp (2 mL) salt and ¼ tsp (1 mL) pepper for about 5 minutes or until onions are soft and browning. Stir the potatoes in and sauté for 2 minutes.
Bump the heat to medium-high; stir in the water and bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat back to medium and boil for around 5 minutes. Potatoes should be nearly tender.
Next, whisk flour into milk and stir into the pot; bring it all to a simmer, stirring often. Stir in fish or seafood and simmer, stirring often until fish flakes easily with a fork or seafood is piping hot. Discard the bay leaf, then stir in lemon juice and season to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with the crumbled crackers.
When you live on the coast, a little ferry hopping is inevitable, and sometimes you get hungry! BC Ferries has been preparing their popular Manhattan style clam chowder the same way for many years and sadly, it’s no longer served on the main routes. However, the Times Colonist tracked down the recipe so you make it yourself. This makes three litres and freezes well— for quick and easy suppers on your boat.
- 160 g ham, diced
- 743 g potatoes, diced
- 335 g carrots, diced
- 590 g onions, diced
- 335 g celery, diced
- 263 g green pepper, diced
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp crushed thyme
- 1 Litre water
- 252 g tomato paste
- 650 g skinned whole tomatoes (crushed)
- 57 g chicken base
- 750 mL canned clam juice
- 185 mL water
- 270 g flour
- 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 900 g clam meat, chopped
- 1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
Sauté the diced ham and vegetables in a saucepan until vegetables are tender and onions become soft and translucent (5 to 10 minutes).
Add in the garlic powder, white pepper, crushed thyme, 1 L water, tomato paste, tomatoes, chicken base, and clam juice; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes. Potatoes should be tender.
Combine 185 mL water with flour and add to the soup slowly, stirring constantly to thicken.
Add in the sauces, sugar, salt, clam meat and parsley; gently fold in ingredients to incorporate.
Return soup to a simmer and serve.
A classic, Bermuda style fish chowder recipe.
- 16 C water or fish stock
- 680 g (1.5 lbs) white fish fillets (red snapper, rockfish, etc.…)
- Salt, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, ground cloves
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 907 g (2 lbs) potatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 large onions, chopped
- 8 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 green peppers, chopped
- 6 carrots, diced
- ½ cup parsley, chopped
- 1 can (28 oz, 794 g) skinned tomatoes
- 1 can (10 oz, 285 g) consommé
- 1 cup ketchup
- 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 oz Black Rum
- 4 Tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce
- Ground pepper to taste
In a large pot add water, fish fillets, salt, and spices. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 30-45 minutes.
In a frying pan, melt butter and oil. Sauté onions, celery, garlic, and green peppers. Add tomatoes and consommé. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Transfer the sauteed mixture to the fish stock and add in the remaining ingredients. Simmer partially covered for 2 hours and adjust seasoning to your liking.
Serve piping hot with Sherry Peppers sauce on the side. Dash with rum to taste.
Other Ideas for Chowder
- Use heavy cream for the richest flavour
- Add candied salmon to add a subtly smoky flavour to a seafood chowder
- For a low-carb chowder, sub cauliflower for potatoes (reduce cooking time to keep cauliflower firm)
- Use fish stock wherever possible to give it the most flavour
- Garnish with chives
- Use fish with firmer meat and leave the fillets whole while cooking them
- Serve your chowder in a bread bowl
- Use a lactose free milk, soy, or coconut beverage in place of milk or cream
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