Until I learned to cook, I was always a little bit afraid of chowder. I can't imagine why. Chowder began as a throw-together dish made by fishermen on the dock, using the odds and ends of what they had caught. So, really, how complicated could it be? Not difficult at all, as it turns out. Sauté aromatic vegetables in fat (butter or bacon fat), add flour to make a roux, pour in some stock, and when it thickens, add the fish. You can use any fish, or a combination of fish, or fish plus shellfish. I buy packages of frozen cod chunks at Trader Joe's. If you have clam stock or fish stock, substitute it for the chicken stock. You can make chowder with any type of potato, but the sweet potatoes give the soup a bright flavor and a nice pop of color, too. I happen to have a lot of fresh tarragon (a gift from a user of our Little Free Library), and it makes the perfect accent to this fish chowder. You can swap in fresh thyme leaves, or a bit of dried tarragon or thyme. Make the chowder right before you want to serve it; the soup takes less than 30 minutes to come together and tastes best when it's fresh.
Cod, bacon, and sweet potato chowder
From the pantry, you'll need: bacon, chicken stock (or clam broth), all-purpose unbleached flour, butter, kosher salt, fresh black pepper.
Serves 3-4; can be multiplied.
4 slices bacon, diced
2 Tbsp butter
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp all-purpose unbleached flour
2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium storebought or homemade, or clam broth
2 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped
1-1/4 lb cod chunks, any size (large pieces will break up into the chowder)
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup half-and-half
In a Dutch oven or heavy stock pot, cook the bacon over medium heat, until just starting to brown (but not yet crisp). With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pot and set aside.
Add the butter to the pot, and when it melts, stir in the sweet potato, celery and scallions. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the sweet potato is cooked through and just beginning to brown around the edges, 3-5 minutes.
Sprinkle in the flour, and stir to incorporate it with the vegetables and butter. Stir constantly to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pot. When all of the flour is incorporated, pour in the chicken stock. Stir to mix everything together. Raise the heat just a little bit, to bring the stock to a simmer; the stock should begin to thicken slightly.
Reduce the heat to low, and add the tarragon and fish chunks, plus the reserved bacon. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. If you have large chunks, gently break them up with a wooden spoon.
When the fish is cooked, taste, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Then, stir in the half-and-half. Cook for 2 minutes (do not boil) to make sure everything is well incorporated. The chowder should be nice and thick and coat the back of your spoon.
Serve immediately. Leftover chowder can be refrigerated in an airtight container and served the next day.
More hearty chowder variations:
Atlantic Canada seafood chowder, from The Perfect Pantry
Quick and easy chicken and corn chowder, from The Perfect Pantry
Smoky shrimp, corn and bacon chowder, from The Perfect Pantry
Clam chowder, from Simply Recipes
Bacon cheddar cauliflower chowder, from Iowa Girl Eats
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