I find it astonishing how often the simplest, most basic recipes can be the hardest to find anywhere well made. An authentic, Maritime fish chowder is a case in point. Versions thickened with flour tend to result in a sort of insipid paste so sludgy you could stand a spoon up in it and walk away. Variations overloaded with extraneous additions lack purity of taste which make the difference between a good fish chowder and great one. (Celery, summer savoury, carrots, bacon, and even butter, in my opinion, fall into this category.) And finally, a proper Maritime fish chowder is meant to be made of flakey white fish, such as haddock or cod. It should never be interfered with by the wanton addition of mussels in the shell, or shrimp, and especially not salmon.
If you fear the ingredients list below seems too simple to yield true flavour, you’re mistaken. Less truly is more. The secret is a trick in the method: cook the fish first to produce a broth in which to cook the vegetables, but remove the fish before adding the vegetables so that the fish doesn’t overcook. (Don’t worry, it gets stirred back in at the end.) This chowder is especially tasty after having spent a day or two in the refrigerator.
A few notes on ingredients:
- I specify frozen fish for this chowder. Most fish sold as “fresh” is, in fact, thawed, and since most fish is sold already prepared, making it impossible to look it in the eye, it’s very difficult to tell how long it has been sitting in the supermarket before you buy it.Unless you live by the seaside, frozen can be best.
- Evaporated milk may strike some as an odd, perhaps even offensive, ingredient, but it is a Maritime staple for chowders of all sorts. It tastes good in soups and it’s authentic to the regional cuisine. (N.B. Do not mistake sweetened condensed milk for evaporated!)
- It’s strange how the same people who are fussy about the quality of their carrots and tomatoes can turn a blind eye when it comes to basics like potatoes and onions. Don’t let that be you. Buy the best you can find.
Maritime Fish Chowder
What I’m referring to, for any non-Canadians out there, is fish chowder from “The Maritimes”, which comprises Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. (If you add Newfoundland to make a quartet, suddenly the group is called, “The Atlantic Provinces” instead. But, minus Newfoundland, the trio is known as “The Maritimes”.) Anyway, geography lesson aside, this regional recipe comes from my mother, and it’s the real thing. It makes a big pot, so perhaps ask some friends over to share it. My dad’s Fennel Crackers are excellent on the side, so you might want to make a double batch of those as well. If you like, serve a salad and cheese afterwards, perhaps some fruit for dessert.