Freshly caught fish was the main ingredient in the chowders from cod in Newfoundland and scallops in the Annapolis Valley area of Nova Scotia to clams from the Acadian region of New Brunswick.
Most chowders contained two or three types of fish.
Chowders originated in making use of what food was locally available. The French and English fishermen who came to Newfoundland to catch cod 400 years ago would be at sea for months at a time so they travelled with salted beef, pork and fish and hard tack.
Not to waste limited cooking fuel, the softened bread and cod were heated together to produce chowder. Salted pork was cubed, fried and added for flavour to the fish and bread. In Newfoundland, this dish is known as fish ’n brewis (pronounced broos).
As settlements were established, gardens provided onions, potatoes, carrots and corn that could be used and cows or goats provided milk.
I discovered one chowder was as thick as pudding with a hearty portion of cream while others were thin and watery made with a broth and a light addition of milk.
The most interesting one had a thin broth that contained potatoes, halibut and a variety of shellfish. The mussels were still in their shell and floated in the soup broth.
Chowders provide a great opportunity for creativity and personal taste. Start with a basic recipe and develop your own unique chowder recipe.
Chowders are a quick meal to prepare as the seafood only takes minutes to cook. The vegetables are prepared and cooked first and then the fish chunks are added and cooked until they flake. The milk is added and slowly heated, but never boiled.
Seasonings for chowders can be as basic as salt and pepper or as varied as Tabasco sauce or medium-hot curry paste. Onion, garlic, and/or leeks complement the potatoes and fish flavours.
In Newfoundland, summer savory is a common seasoning. For added flavour or as a garnish, add parsley, chives, cilantro, dill, lemon zest or chopped cooked bacon.
For richness and flavour, butter and cream are added, but calories can be reduced by using lower fat milk.
Serve chowder with crusty bread, buns or biscuits or in a large hollowed out bun as a bread bowl.
Cod Fish Chowder
- 2 tbsp. butter 30 mL
- 1/3 c. onion, diced 75 mL
- 2 c. potatoes, diced 500 mL
- 3 c. water 750 mL
- 2 tsp. salt 10 mL
- dash of sugar
- dash of pepper
- 1 lb. fresh or frozen cod, cut into chunks 500 g
- 1 c. evaporated milk 250 mL
Combine butter, onion, potatoes, water, salt, sugar and pepper. Boil gently for about 15 minutes. Once potatoes are cooked, add fish and simmer gently until cooked, about 10 minutes. Add milk and heat slowly, do not boil. Serve hot with crusty bread.
This is a basic chowder recipe from Fat-Back and Molasses, A Collection of Favourite Old Recipes from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Any variety or combination of fish can be used.
Philip’s Favourite Seafood Chowder
- meat from one cooked lobster
- 4-8 oz. fresh scallops 125 to 250 g
- 6-8 raw jumbo shrimp (if using cooked shrimp, add just before serving)
- 6 fresh clams, in shells
- 6 fresh mussels, in shells
- 1 small haddock fillet, cut into bite-sized pieces (optional)
- 4-5 medium potatoes, cubed
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2-3 tbsp. butter 15 – 30 mL
- 1 can evaporated milk 385 mL
- light cream or whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsp. chopped parsley, or to taste 30 mL
- cayenne pepper and chopped parsley
Prepare seafood, remove meat from lobster and cut into bite-sized pieces. Leave scallops whole. Peel raw shrimp. Wipe haddock, if using, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place clams and mussels in water to soak, and remove beards from mussels. Place all seafood in refrigerator until needed.
In a stockpot, cook potatoes and onions in enough water to keep them from sticking for about 12 to 15 minutes. They should be just barely cooked and still crunchy. Remove from heat and lay haddock on top. Cover and set aside.
Using half of the butter, gently saute lobster over low heat until a reddish sauce is formed. Do not overcook or the lobster will be tough. Add scallops and shrimp and saute for one minute more. Remove from heat and keep warm.
Drain potato mixture. Add evaporated milk and enough milk or cream to make desired thickness. Gently stir in seafood and butter sauce. Add more milk to the saute pan, scrape and add to pot. Add bay leaves, gently simmer until potatoes are fully cooked and flavours blend. Add remaining butter and stir when melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in parsley.
Just before serving, steam clams and mussels until shells open, about three minutes. Remove bay leaves. Ladle chowder into a serving dish or individual bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley and cayenne.
Arrange shellfish (in shell) around edge of bowl on top of chowder. Serve with crusty bread. Makes four servings. – Source: www.saltscapes.com.
Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: <[email protected]