A chowder is like a chunky soup. It usually contains fish, seafood, and vegetables. The history of this tasty dish is not as well defined as certain other recipes and the first recipe was not printed until the middle of the nineteenth century.
We do know that chowder was popular before that time. It is believed that the recipe originated in a fishing community and the ingredients depended on what fish had been freshly caught. Different types of fish stew recipes are found in every country with a shoreline in the world. Fishermen in France would toss some of their freshly caught seafood into a big pot and it is thought that the word “chowder” comes from “chaudiere” – the French word for the iron cooking pot.
It is likely that cod was the first fish used in these dishes, although snapper, redfish, and grouper are all great to use because their flesh stays firm when they are cooked. Bacon or salt pork, potatoes and onions also feature a lot. The first ones were made with a layering technique. For example, the onions would go into the pot first, followed by the salt pork.
When that was cooked, the stock and fish would be added. The reason for this is so that the ingredients cooked evenly without burning. If the pork did not have a layer of onions underneath, it would have burnt. A recipe from 1832 suggests the addition of ketchup, beer, or lemon juice to improve the flavor of the dish.
This dish was a mainstay in the northeast by the mid-nineteenth century, shellfish, and clams often found their way into the cooking pot. They were very easy to get and cooks simply had to dig them up from the shore.
The Native Indians in the northeast enjoyed fish but the pilgrims were not so keen on it, apart from eels. The Native Americans frequently made chowder and used ingredients like mussels and clams. Funnily enough, the pilgrims were not keen on these shellfish and instead used them as hog feed! State legislature in Maine in 1939 banned the addition of tomatoes to the authentic chowder recipe, claiming that they interfered with the traditional taste.
Modern Chowder Recipes
Clam chowder is the most famous type in New England today, although there are various ways to make it. Since the original recipes depended on what the fishermen had caught, this is a dish, which is wide open to interpretation and adaptation.
You can make yours thick or thin, clear or colored and garnished or not, depending on your preferences. Crusty bread is a nice accompaniment or you might like to crumble crackers into it.
It is important to use a good stock when making seafood chowder. This can be a time-consuming process but stock freezes well so just make a big batch and freeze it in portions. You can use bottled chicken broth or clam juice if you are in a rush. These are bland enough to blend with fish and seafood flavors.