Updated: Mar 18
Decades ago, while guiding on Great Slave Lake in Canada's arctic, I developed a fish chowder recipe that the guests loved. This recipe was actually taught to me by one of the senior guides, Charley, but I've perfected it over the years and am convinced I could do it in my sleep now. This is also one of the dishes that I prepare during the Fly Fishing 101 course that I host in the summer here at the farm.
This chowder is very flexible. Many different kinds of seafood can be substituted, but if you can find some lake trout at the fish or farmers market, do it!
You are going to need a bigger pot than you think for this project. It has to be large enough to hold cooking water, vegetable, and fish/seafood for 4-6 people. I've overflowed enough pots on the campfire over the years to know that bigger is better. Do what you can in reading my mind and pick your largest pot, within reason.
In your large pot bring salted water to a boil. Enough water to cover the vegetables that you are preparing plus half again more. (This is important!)
Slice into bite-sized chunks:
6-8 carrots, 4-6 medium potatoes, 2 small onions, and 3 sticks of celery.
Add a stick of rosemary and any herbs you wish. There are really very few wrong answers here. However, my attitude has always been to let the taste of the main ingredients pop through. So I don't get crazy with spices and herbs.
Garlic might be a good addition here as well, but I am not a big fan of garlic in fish dishes. Maybe I am weird in this regard? You just do you.
Add the cut veg to the now boiling salted water and go to the next step.
I like to use fish that we've caught while fishing through the ice in the winter. This chowder is especially great on a winter's afternoon, so the two activities go together properly!
You can use any fish you wish...even shrimp, lobster, or other types of seafood. It would be wonderful for you to make this chowder your own! Basically, the idea here is to prepare filets into bite-sized chunks, enough fish or seafood for 4-6 people.
Adding the seafood: This is a critical step. You cannot add the fish to the cooking vegetables too early or you end up with a mess. I wait until the vegetables are basically cooked to desired texture. Again, if you wait too long you'll end up with a soupy mess filled with bits of vegetable puree. Once your veg is cooked (test it often) you can add the fish.
The fish or seafood will cook within a minute or two. Keep an eye on it carefully. The second it is cooked through you can go on to the next step. Warning! Do not overcook seafood or it becomes bouncy and tough.
The Next Step
Your large pot of water, vegetables, and fish are now cooked. Carefully pour approximately half of the water out into another bowl. This will leave you with the veg, fish, and a bit of water. Here is where it becomes chowder. Put the pot back on the stove, this time, the heat will be on low (we're just trying to keep it warm here...no more cooking.
Season with more salt. At this point, slurp a little of the fishy broth. Add salt to taste. Also, add a good dose of white pepper here as well.
Next, add a big old pad of butter. Again, the bigger the better. Just kidding, go ahead and use your best judgment here. I guess I would use perhaps 1/8th cup?
Ok, that's a lie...I would use 1/4 cup. Let the butter melt into the hot fish and veg.
Add some garden dill that you've already frozen from the summer. Again, just to taste.
Now we have a big pot of buttery, dilly, seasoned fish, vegetables, and water. Time to add the cream. I find that the heavier the cream the better. Because we've left some of the water broth, the cream will be diluted. Add enough cream to re-cover the fish and vegetables and give it a gentle stir. How does it taste? Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Remember the fish broth we have left over? I usually go ahead and freeze that stuff. It tastes good on its own (ish), but the next time you have some lobster for a treat...boil up the shells in that broth for a next-day lobster bisque! You'll thank me later.