Salmon Chowder: Whether Pacific or Atlantic, Luxury Soup for all Seasons

Pacific sockeye salmon is perfect for a hearty chowder

Soup can be a tricky dish to prepare.  I enjoy experimenting with various stews, bisques, broths, and soups for one-bowl meals, but I learned recently that one can judge a restaurant’s mettle based on its soups, due to timing (the delicate texture of many vegetables, meats, or fish) as well as the intricate balance of correct seasonings in a liquid base.

Before I delve into the Pacific salmon chowder I made recently, I have a few more pictures from my recent holiday in England and Scotland, to follow up on my last post.

No salmon on the menu, but the chicken-ham-leek pie was tasty at a 13-century thatched roof tavern in Honeybourne, England.

Also in the Cotswolds, the village of Snowshill is picture-pefect:

Nearby in Bath, the Sally Lunn House dates back to 1452 and  features a restaurant (home of the famous Sally Lunn Bun) and a kitchen museum.  One can only guess what this mannequin is cooking up:

Exmoor National Park has rolling hills and sweeping vistas, such as this view from the town of Selworthy:

Up in Scotland, salmon would have been a meal fit for a king at Caerlaverock Castle, south of Dumfries:

Up in the Highlands, these deer sculptures could very well be seeking salmon:

To end this travelogue with a food-related picture from Dumfries, Scotland, I say Crabbie’s adult ginger beer would be a fitting companion to salmon chowder:

For the recipe….

While I had smoked salmon, kippers, and lots of haddock in England and Scotland, we have been enjoying salmon galore back in the Pacific.  We had an abundance of sockeye this year in the Canadian Gulf Islands.  This was such a relief after several years of poor runs of this desirable variety.  With so much fish on hand, I made salmon salad, salmon in soy-maple-ginger glaze, gravlax, and stock.  I had so much stock and so little freezer space that I decided to try my hand at making a salmon chowder for the first time.

My friend Lynn, of Real Food From A Small Island, lent me a wonderful collection of chowder recipes by Jasper White, a chef from Massachusetts – a state which certainly knows its chowders.   This collection is a must for any chowder-lover.

Jasper’s recipe takes a bit of time, but I found it to be luxuriously rich (note the heavy cream!), elegant, and flavourful.  My substitution of spicy pancetta for the bacon helped increase the chowder’s complexity.  I added corn kernels, too, as fresh island-grown corn was still available when I made the soup.

So whether you dine on Atlantic salmon in your thirteenth-century Scottish castle or enjoy Pacific sockeye in your 1960s island-house off Canada’s Pacific coast, this chowder will serve you well.

Pacific Salmon Chowder, from 50 Chowders by Jasper White (my adaptations follow this detailed recipe)

Ingredients

  • 20 spring onions, 1 pint pearl onions, or 12 ounces small boiling onions
  • 4 ounces slab (unsliced) bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots (2 ounces), finely diced
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh summer savory or thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves removed and chopped (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold, Maine, P.E.I., or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2- inch thick
  • 4 cups fish stock or chicken stock (of your choosing), or water (as a last resort)
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds skinless salmon fillets, pinbones removed and cut into large chunks((2 to 4 inches)
  • 1/2 cups heavy cream (or up to 2 cups if desired)
  • For garnish:  2 tablespoons very coarsely chopped fresh chervil or chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions

1. Remove all the tough outer leaves from the spring onions and trim them to about 1 inch long so they have only a little of the green top attached. Blanch the onions in a 2-quart saucepan of boiling salted water for 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a bowl of ice water to cool, then drain. Cut the larger ones lengthwise in half; reserve until later. If you are using pearl onions, blanch them in their skins for 3 minutes, then transfer to ice water; drain and peel. If you are using small boiling onions, blanch in their skins for 5 minutes, transfer to ice water, drain and peel; trim them down in size if needed.

2. Heat a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is crisp and golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.

3. Add the butter, shallots, and bay leaves and saute, stirring often with a wooden spoon, for 2 minutes. Stir in the savory or thyme and tarragon and cook 1 minute longer. Add the potatoes and stock. If the stock doesn’t cover the potatoes, add just enough water to cover them. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover, and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 10 minutes, until they are soft on the outside but still firm on the inside. If the stock hasn’t thickened lightly, smash a few of the potato slices against the side of the pot and
or two longer to release their starch. Add the blanched onions, reduce and simmer for 5 minutes. Season the mixture assertively with salt and pepper almost over-season the chowder at this point, to avoid having to stir it fish is added).

4.  Add the salmon and cook for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow the chowder to cook for 10 minutes. (The fish will finish cooking during this time.) Gently stir in the seasoning if necessary. If you are not serving the chowder within a the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover after it has completely chilled. Otherwise, let it sit for up to one hour at room temperature, allowing the flavors to meld.

When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don’t let it boil. Use a slotted spoon to place the chunks of salmon, the potatoes, and spring onions in the center of large soup plates or shallow bowls, and ladle the cream broth around.  Sprinkle with the chopped Italian parsley (or chervil).

My notes

  • I substituted spicy pancetta for the bacon, which is a great change, in my view.
  • As  spring onions were not available on the island, I used two medium yellow onions (about six ounces each), finely chopped.
  • Also, I added corn-off-the-cob, but this is very optional, of course.
  • I used one cup of heavy cream, which I think sufficed.
  • Finally, I did use home-made salmon stock, thanks to the big run of fish.
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15 responses to “Salmon Chowder: Whether Pacific or Atlantic, Luxury Soup for all Seasons

  1. I love chowders and this one looks heavenly, cant wait to cook mine. Thanks for sharing the recipe

    Raymund
    http://angsarap.wordpress.com

  2. Thanks so much, Raymund. Do let me know how it turns out for you! Dan

  3. That sounds just delicious! Always love new ways to prepare salmon!

  4. Which castle was your favorite, Dan? :) They all look so imposing and picturesque!

    Salmon chowder is a new idea for me…can’t believe I didn’t consider it before, though. Such a warm. comforting winter dinner idea!

    • Thanks very much, Maddie. I’d rank Eilean Donan (last week’s post) and Caerlavrock (this week) as best castles in Scotland, and Haddon Hall (not really a castle) in England as the top manor house on this trip.

      Try the salmon chowder when you want a rich but wholesome one-bowl dinner, especially when it’s stormy outside….

      Dan

  5. i love so much England !!pIERRE de Paris

  6. Ah-ha! The famous chowder! David said it was delicious but needed the inclusion of the cream when you made it for him. Just so you know, I’m making a list of all the things that I’m going to make you make me when I visit… :P Only kidding… sorta.

    Jax x

    • Thanks, Jax. I tried the chowder with just milk and extra butter and one with the cream. Can you guess which is better? Despite the butter enhancing the flavour, the mouth-feel was much better with the cream, of course.

      I can’t wait to see – or eat! – the list….

      Dan

  7. My daughter has been requesting a seafood chowder. A salmon one would be perfect. We are not lucky enough to have it as fresh as you have it!

  8. Hi, Geni. No, you probably can’t buy just-caught salmon off the back of a truck (literally), but you do have all those SoCal benefits of local, field-raised produce year-round…it’s always a trade-off, right?

    Thanks,

    Dan

  9. Pingback: Double-Chocolate Double-Malt Frosted Brownies: Recycling and Reusing Recipes | IslandEAT

  10. Pingback: Leek and Potato Hotpot: Classic Comfort Food from Jolly Olde England | IslandEAT

  11. I feel like being there!

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