Seafood Chowder is the epitome of Northern Atlantic cuisine. From Labrador to the New England States, each region has claimed it as it's own. It is a hearty soup that usually contains fish and/or shellfish, especially clams. The word chowder is believed to be derived from the French chaudiere ('cauldron'). Indisputably, with respect to North America, chowder orginated with Breton fishermen who brought the custom to Newfoundland, and later migrated to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and New England, which includes the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
In the past, chowder was considered to be 'poor man's food', but for those of us in Atlantic Canada and the New England States, Seafood Chowder is King! For many, chowder is the ultimate comfort food and given the wide variety of seafood available in the north Atlantic, chowder is a smorgasbord of oceanic delights such as cod, salmon, scallops, mussels, shrimp, clams and squid.
Eighteenth century chowders were even more varied, sometimes containing meat or poultry and wine, spices, herbs, cider and other flavourings were added. Pounded common crackers or hard tack, also known as 'ship biscuits', served as thickening, as is still the case with the Newfoundland dish Fish and Brewis.
In Newfoundland and Maritime Canada, chowder usually contains cod, scallops, mussels, shrimp, lobster and clams. The standard New England style chowder predominantly contains clams cooked with salt pork, onions, potatoes and milk. Manhattan-style chowder replaces the milk with tomatoes and Conche Chowder is a specialty of Key West, Florida. In the southern and midwestern United States, fresh sweet corn (maize) often replaces the clams in chowder.
The broth for chowder can be thick and creamy, tomato based as with Manhattan-style or a clear broth as in the 'South Country Style' chowder of Rhode Island. In New Jersey, it's not unccommon to add asparagus, and in Delaware, they often add quahogs, or hard shell clams also known as Cherrystone or Littleneck.
This past week, we were in Petit de Grat and Arichat, Cape Breton/Nova Scotia, for a gathering of some of the Power Clan. My cousin with whom I was staying, requested that I make a Seafood Chowder, for a more intimate, smaller gathering of about 25 close family members. 'No problem!", I said. But let me tell you, making a big pot of anything for 25 of my closest family memebers was a lot of pressure! I knew they weren't going to hold any punches when critiquing the end product...I was quite anxious!
They all loved it and were more than just a little surprised to learn it was lower in fat than most chowders because I didn't use condensed soup or heavy cream, and the only salt I used was about 1/4 tsp. for the initial sweating of the diced onion. When any one would comment that my Newfoundland Seafood Chowder was delicious, my father would say, 'I guess it is...I taught her everything she knows!". I realize you don't know my father, but rest assured, that's pretty high praise!
My Newfoundland Seafood Chowder contains cod, crab, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and lobster, in a creamy broth with potato, onion, celery, a little thyme, salt and pepper, just a little dry white wine, and garnished with finely diced green onion. (Full recipe details can be found under the Seafood portion of my recipes section). The pot of chowder I made this past weekend was particularly awesome because all of the seafood was either fresh, or fresh frozen, caught from the waters just across the street and the onion and green onion came from my cousin, Clayton's, garden!
No longer is chowder a 'poor man's food' and while most original recipes for chowder call for heavy cream and evaporated milk, once again, in true Kim's Cookology fashion, I've healthied it up, cutting the fat, without sacrificing taste. When making Newfoundland Seafood Chowder, make sure you have some leftover for the next day....it only gets better, if you can believe it, when the flavours have had a chance to mingle and become one!