Ah, the bracing winds off the East Coast of Canada remind one of the rich, maritime traditions of the region. And nothing captures that essence quite like a comforting bowl of chowder. Inspired by the coastal provinces where fresh seafood is a way of life, this recipe marries succulent clams with a creamy base, creating a symphony of flavors. As the waves crash and lighthouses stand tall, allow yourself to be transported to a Nova Scotian harbor with every spoonful. Perfect for a cozy dinner, this chowder promises warmth, nostalgia, and a taste of the Atlantic.
First, some tips:
- Whenever you have a feed of lobster be sure to freeze the shells, same goes for shrimp. That can all go into the stock pot along with the usual mirepoix, resulting in a flavourful stock. Or don’t make stock at all and use a box of chicken stock jazzed up with the aforementioned shells and a can of clam nectar.
- Maritime chowders are made with milk or cream, not tomato, and are bullish on potatoes, usually rather large chunks that will fill the whole spoon.
- Fresh mussels and clams, still in the shell are an added and welcome bonus, but canned clams are delicious too. Also, have you considered cockles? A hard shelled clam, they have a lovely flute-y shell that looks beautiful in the bowl.
- Any fish you use should be a good and firm, not too oily; halibut, haddock, cod, rockfish, whitefish and arctic char are all great for chowder. But if you want a stronger fish you can go right ahead and throw some salmon in there. The fish should be cut into large pieces and put into the pot towards the end of the cooking, when the potatoes are almost soft. If you put the fish in too early it will break down and disappear. You want to just gently simmer the fish for about the last ten minutes of cooking.
- Have you ever heard of putting eggs in a chowder? Hank Shaw (Hunt Gather Cook) highly recommends it. As he says, “(my chowder) is finished off with what the French call a liaison: A mix of egg yolks and heavy cream.”
- Garnish with fresh herbs from the garden. Chowder loves all the herbs; tarragon, parsley, dill, thyme and chives.
East Coast Chowder
2 tablespoons butter or 2 strips of bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
3 cups fish stock, veg stock or fortified chicken stock and clam nectar
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into large cubes
2 bay leaves
1 can of clams
1 ½ lbs cod fillet or other firm fish, cut into 3- inch pieces
optional: ¼ cup instant potato flakes or 2 tablespoons cornstarch (to thicken)
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
fresh herbs for garnish
In a large saucepan melt 2 tablespoons butter or 2 strips of bacon chopped into small pieces. If using bacon, remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat once the bacon is cooked. Sauteé onion, garlic, carrot and celery in butter or with the lardon until soft. Add stock or water and potatoes and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and add bay leaf and simmer until potatoes are almost done, about 15 minutes. Add fish and clams and the clam juice in the can. Let simmer for another 15 minutes or so. If you want to thicken it up, lower heat and stir in instant potato flakes, or 2 tablespoons of cornstarch that has been dissolved in ¼ cup cold water. Stir gently until soup begins to thicken then stir in cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish and serve.