The Best Seafood Chowder Recipe

Making the best seafood chowder is not about the recipe and the exact quantities – it’s about the method and approach. 

Clam chowder, seafood chowder, whichever you prefer, the base is still the same. A rich yet sweet and light tasting indulgence. No, this isn’t a light and on-diet recipe. It is healthy though, using whole ingredients that you recognize. The can of baby clams and bacon, while technically processed you can easily find options that are minimally processed. Let your seafood chowder be a treat you share with friends, and don’t focus on the calorie count.

gather ingredient for your seafood chowder
My pot isn’t dirty – it’s a very well loved patina.

What you need to know before you start:

  • Make sure you read through before beginning to cook. This is more about the method and less about a clear-cut series of steps. There are a few simple things to consider before you start. 
  • Use the heaviest 5-quart pot you have. You’ll see my very well-loved cast iron enamelled dutch oven in the photos. The heavy lid helps prevent too much liquid reduction, and the radiant pot makes the sauté create the most beautiful caramelization. Here’s a link to the one you see in the pictures. It’s easily the most used pot in my kitchen.
  • Always buy the best ingredients you can afford. The flexibility of this recipe means it will be great no matter what seafood mix you can use – and I highly recommend trying different kinds!
  • Be patient in the early steps, they are laying the foundation for flavour.  It comes together fast – I promise!
  • Once you put the seafood in – try to leave the chowder alone, stirring only once or twice. You want the chunks of fish to stay together and give big lovely bites.
  • I do all the sauté steps at medium-low heat, and then reduce to low heat once the liquids are added.

Seafood Chowder method at-a-glance.

Time needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Everyone has different tastes – so taste as you go! Think in the context of the ingredients you are adding and how they layer together. Change the quantities of the ingredients to suit you! The quantities I suggest are a starting point that assumes you have 1-1.5 lbs of seafood mix. Since this is the most expensive part of the recipe, keep in mind you can reduce and increase the amounts of the other ingredients based on how much fish you have. It’s just about ratios!

But follow the method. Here’s the birds-eye-view. Use this once you’ve read through the detailed walk-through that follows. (There’s also a recipe card at the end)

  • Gather Your Ingredients.

    – 5-6 Strips of thick cut bacon
    – 1-3 small to medium onions, or 1 large
    – 2-3 stalks of celery, diced
    – 2 large carrots, or a large handful of baby carrots
    – 1 small bunch of dill
    – 2 cloves of garlic
    – 2-3 medium potatoes
    – 1 lb of chowder mix seafood (my favourite seafood counter has a mix of haddock, scallop, lobster, salmon, cod and shrimp – but anything that has a combination of fish and crustacea or mollusks)
    – 1 can of baby clams, with liquid reserved
    – 1 bottle of white wine (you’ll need 1-2 glasses worth for the broth, and I always serve the chowder with what’s left!)
    – Heavy cream
    – Salt and pepper
    – Thyme (or savoury or rosemary – something with a deep herbal note)

  • Dice and render the bacon

    Only stir a couple times to get a nice colour. Render most of the fat out, and leave in the pot.

  • Sauté the mirepoix, starting with the onions

    Start with the onions, fry until soft and translucent. Add celery, fry until soft and translucent. Add carrots and fry till beginning to soften, adding garlic for last minute or so.

  • Potato time

    They need to be ready to drop in the pot before the mirepoix is ready, so plan accordingly. Options for preparing the potatoes are below.

  • Get ready to deglaze the pan.

    Have the two glasses of wine ready, only adding about 1/2 a glass at a time. lift up the stuck on colourful bits.

  • Simmer Time

    Reduce the heat to low. Add potatoes, the rest of the wine, clam juice and water until the potatoes are just barely covered. Photo reference below.

  • The final countdown

    Add seafood mix, cream and water until just barely covered again. Bring up to a slight simmer. Garnish with dill and green onion and serve.


The beautiful seafood chowder details.

Dice and render the bacon.

Bacon rendering in pan lends a smokey rich flavour to the seafood chowder

Using low-medium heat, render and caramelize the bacon. I usually throw this in the pot and get to chopping the rest of the ingredients while the bacon gets ready. 

If you are slow with a knife – consider doing all your chopping beforehand. This method is all about paying attention to the stages as ingredients are added. When we do this thoughtfully, we end up with really beautiful results.

We want the bacon to have some dark color, but not be all hard and crunchy. When it starts looking like the photo here, it’s time to work the mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots). The key to achieving this is the combination of low-medium heat, and only stirring a couple of times. Don’t worry about crispy bits and some sticking to the pot, we’ll be taking care of that soon.


Sauté the mirepoix, starting with the onions.

All clam chowders need to start with a mire-poix

If the smell of the bacon wasn’t enough, here’s where the smell starts to trigger hunger. 

Add the diced onions, stirring more often now. Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the celery. Add the carrots as the celery softens. 

Continue sauteing until the carrots are softened as well, throwing in the garlic for the last minute or so. 

-Yes, you are leaving the bacon fat in the pot. (Gasp, the horror! Oh, but the flavour.)

Usually, I’m preparing the potatoes as I work on this stage. We have a couple of fun options for the potatoes, which are covered in the next step.


Potato Time

We have two options here – grate the potatoes with a cheese grater or dice them fairly small. 

If you want to make a lighter variation of the chowder using light cream, milk, and a higher ratio of water, then the grated potatoes are your best option. The shredded potato releases starch more freely, thickening the chowder more.

If you are like me and have a partner that really prefers biting into the potato, then the dice is the way you’ll want to go, but keep them pretty small. No bigger than 2cm cubes.

I really prefer the grated potato method. It cooks up quickly and gives the chowder a thickness that I love.

Either way – you want to make sure your potatoes are ready to drop in by this point.

You’ll notice everything is softened and there’s some awesome colour stuck on the pan. Say hello to flavour base.


Get ready to deglaze the pan.

Adding wine to seafood chowder is the perfect acid to balance the cream

Wine time!
There’s a saying in cooking, “always add acid.” It’s a crucial part in keeping what could easily be an overly rich and sweet dish like chowder feeling balanced. The wine and the dill are playing this part for us.

We’ll be working quickly here.

Using about a half a glass of wine at first, we’ll add this to the pot, and scrape all the lovely stuck on bits off. That quick boil, steamy part in combination with lifting the beautiful color off our pan is why this is called deglazing. 

The liquid will also appear to thicken as you are doing this, so keep the wine handy adding more as needed to prevent things from sticking to the pan again. Yay potato starch!

Add your potatoes in once the bottom of the pot is cleaned up, along with the juice from the clams, and enough wine that you are close to two glasses added.  


Simmer time

Thick and rich clam chowder is about balancing the liquids

With the clam juice, wine and potatoes added, you’ll want to add water (only if needed) so that everything is covered just to the point in the photo.

Turn the heat to low, put the heavy lid on, and simmer until the potatoes are cooked (about 10 minutes).

Depending on my mood this is either where I go drink a glass of wine, or clean up the counters from the chopping.

When it comes time to add the fish and cream, you’ll want to add liquid until just barely covered, just like this photo. 


The final countdown to chowder

The last part happens pretty quickly.  Don’t do like I did and go sit down. This is actually the best time to stay nearby and tidy up the kitchen. 

It’s time to add in the seafood mix. Dump it right in there and give it all a gentle stir to spread it all out evenly. Add in the heavy cream till it’s just about covered like we did at the potato stage, plus ~a cup of water. 

Put the lid back on and leave it until it is just barely simmering. 

Best chowder ever - plated and finished, ready to eat!
The result.

Here’s the thing about seafood. We overcook it. Shrimp turn rubbery.  


Stop it.


By the time everything gets back up to a slight simmer, it’s all perfectly cooked. (assuming all the pieces are under 1-inch cubes).  Add in the clams at the very end and give it another gentle stir. 

Garnish with sliced green onions and diced fresh dill. Serve with white wine and rustic toast. Or just eat it up, your call. 

Share your new favourite seafood chowder with your favourite people and have them begging for more!


Final notes – Clam chowder tricks to keep in mind.

If you don’t want the cream to curdle, warm it up before putting it in the bigger pot!

You can add it cold, if stirring gently – and you promise not to let it get back up to a boil 😉

And maybe when you are done with a belly full of love, you can take a few minutes to explore your inner dialogue.


Best Ever Seafood Chowder

A flexible and delicious method of making seafood chowder that is rich, flavourful and delicate. 
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time55 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Soup
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 5 Strips Bacon Diced
  • 1-3 Small Onion Or One large – diced
  • 2-3 Stalk Celery Diced
  • 2 Large Carrots Diced
  • 2 Clove Garlic minced
  • 1 Bunch Dill Minced
  • 2-3 Medium Potatoes Diced or Shredded
  • 1 LB Chowder Seafood Mix
  • 1 Can Baby Clams reserve liquid
  • 1 Bottle White Wine 1-2 Glasses for the broth
  • 1-2 Cups Heavy Cream
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 0.5 tsp Thyme Adjust depending on freshness

Instructions

  • Dice and Render The Bacon, stirring occasionally – get that caramelized color, and don’t worry about stuff sticking to the pan.
  • Saute the onion, celery, and carrot (mirepoix) until soft and translucent
  • Add diced potatoes and sauté for another minute or two
  • Deglaze the pan using white wine, about 1/2 glass at a time, until about 2 glasses have been added. Scrape up all the good stuff from the bottom of the pan.  
  • Reduce heat to low, add clam juice (not the clams) and water until the veggies are **just barely covered** – Simmer until the potatoes are softened. Cover with heavy lid.
  • Add seafood mix and cream, (water if needed), salt and pepper, and let it come up to a light simmer.  DO NOT boil. Five minutes at a light simmer is the max you need. 
  • Garnish with dill and green onion and serve!

This post does contain an affiliate link or two, so I may receive a small commission if you decide to buy via the link.

Posted by Kate

Modern-day sass-pot renaissance woman. Jack-of-all-trades, lover of many. Crafting the best out of the situation. Here to share what she has learned with you.

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