Salmon Chowder

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Ritual and tradition are powerful forces, both for good and for ill. Such it is with me and this salmon chowder.

I grew up eating chowder, all sorts of chowder, really, but my mom’s is the best. It is a brothy, Maine-style clam chowder that is always made from the same ingredients. always in the same way. Any deviation is apostasy.

Closeup of a bowl of salmon chowder
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Needless to say I developed a taste for that sort of chowder, no matter if it’s made with clams or fish or whatever. Sure, I like Manhattan “clam chowder,” but I view it as more of a perfectly nice clam soup than a proper chowder. There is also a Rhode Island style chowder with no tomato or dairy — also a lovely soup, but not a chowder.

There is, however, one incarnation of chowder I loathe: It is that hideous, gloppy monstrosity a particular set of New Englanders are known to concoct, mostly I suspect for Midwestern tourists. And I say “Midwestern” because I recently had a version of this chowder in Minnesota that was so thick you could stand a spoon in it.

My first tentative steps to break from tradition came with a perch chowder I designed specifically for the Great Lakes region. It’s made with yellow perch and Polish kielbasa and is damn good if I say so myself. This salmon chowder is my second step.

To me, chowder is different from soup in that it contains dairy products, in most cases cream or whole milk. Some are thickened with a butter-and-flour roux; mine are generally not. If you choose to thicken your salmon chowder with a roux, use equal weights of butter and flour; weight is a better way to do this than tablespoons. I’d suggest an ounce and an ounce. (If you insist on tablespoons, it’s about 2 tablespoons butter and roughly 3 tablespoons flour.)

I should start by saying that what you see in the picture is not, strictly speaking, a salmon chowder: It’s made with a steelhead trout. Steelhead is very close to salmon, although it is a little leaner and a lot paler (unless you are working with pink salmon, which is the same color). Any salmon, char or trout you feel like using will work here.

I live in Northern California, where the chinook salmon is king. This is the very southern end of its range, and what, ecologically speaking, could be called the Pacific Northwest — and it is the Pacific Northwest, with its vast salmon runs, trout in the mountains, steelhead in the rivers and char in the snowy North — where I drew my inspiration here.

So my salmon chowder has a salmon stock, bacon, corn, lots of herbs and a homemade stock. None of this would fly in mum’s clam chowder. I’ve even added chanterelle mushrooms, and it was a great choice; if you want to do that, add about 1 cup chopped or torn chanties. 

Here’s the thing: People move West to escape tradition, to be free to be whomever they wish to be. Why can’t their chowder follow suit?

A bowl of salmon chowder
4.88 from 32 votes

Salmon Chowder

You can use any salmonid fish for this recipe... actually, you can use any fish -- except for something like sardines, mackerel or bluefish. Serve with crusty sourdough bread and a hoppy beer or crisp white wine. Oh, and this chowder is actually better the next day; just heat it up very slowly on the stovetop. Don't let it boil.
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients 

SALMON BROTH

  • 3 to 4 pounds salmon heads, fins and bones , gills removed
  • Salt
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 handful of dried mushrooms, preferably matsutake
  • 2 bay leaves

CHOWDER

  • 1/4 pound thick bacon
  • 1 cup chopped yellow or white onion
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 5 tp 6 cups fish broth, or 4 cups chicken broth plus 1 to 2 cups water
  • 1 to 2 pounds skinless, boneless salmon meat, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or thawed
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or chives, for garnish

Instructions 

  • To make the broth, put all the broth ingredients into the pot and cover with water. Bring to a bare simmer, or even just let it steep like a tea, for 30 to 45 minutes. Strain the broth. Pick any stray salmon meat you want off the bones and reserve. Discard the rest of the solids and reserve the broth.
  • Wipe out the pot, add the bacon, and turn the heat to medium, and cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon. Eat 1 piece. Chop the rest and reserve.
  • Sauté the onion and celery in the bacon fat, stirring often, until they are soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and the salmon broth and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • When the potatoes are tender, add the corn and the chunks of salmon. Cook gently until the salmon is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped bacon, dill, heavy cream and black pepper.

Video

Notes

Note that any sort of salmon or trout will work here. 

Keys to Success

  • Don't get all low fat on me and sub in milk for the cream. The chowder can break and curdle. Ew. 
  • If you want, skip the bacon and use olive oil. I won't mind. 
  • Any dried mushrooms will do for the broth, not just matsutake.
  • In a perfect world, you would use meat from the head and collars for this chowder, because they are fattier and nicer and won't dry out. Regular fillet meat is fine though. 

Nutrition

Calories: 409kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 99mg | Sodium: 1248mg | Potassium: 1103mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 3054IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 152mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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62 Comments

  1. we brought home quite a few pink salmon and some silvers too from a fishing trip to Alaska. Looking for some variety i decided to make my first chowder. This is a very solid recipe. Not too rich or fishy. Like another rater suggested, we added some Hatch chili for a little kick. We will definitely be making this again.

  2. I had a substantial piece of grilled coho salmon left over from a family dinner and I was looking for something interesting to make with it. We made stock from the bones, heads and tails, and I was looking for something to make using that as well. When I found this recipe, I hit the lottery for the ingredients, so we decided to give it a try. This chowder is amazing, and the recipe is going right into our favorites!

  3. Wow was this an awesome recipe. I added a chunk of my savory smoked salmon to the broth with the veggies and later added the raw. Wow amazing ??

  4. I loved this recipe! It was easy to make and was delicious. I catch and eat quite a bit of Salmon and sometimes I get tired of eating it the same old ways. This recipe Helped me switch it up a bit.

  5. My husband is not a huge fan of salmon and we have about 18 lbs of salmon left from our honeymoon fishing trip, so thought he might enjoy a few fillets in a soup! And boy, was I right! It is delicious with a hint cream, without being overly heavy or a strange consistency. I love the fresh corn in this especially, and have made it regularly (as in once a week!) since I made it for my husband the first time! Also, since we are from New Mexico, we add one small can ( 4 oz) of hot green chile, to give it a bit of a kick!

  6. This is an awesome recipe! I love being able to use something that is usually thrown away, and make something delicious and nutritious! I appreciate the all the extra information! There is a large market that I like to go to that when I remember, I ask in the fish market if they have any wild salmon bones. I am grateful when they do because I get to make something my body craves.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience!!!

  7. Just made with some kokanee. Delicious! For those looking for dairy free, the betterhalf tasted good in this.

  8. Hank, what do you think about using smoked trout? I just cooked up a few and thought about throwing them in.

  9. I like to read comments when I get a blog recipe, and find out what others have learned before me. In that spirit I offer my lesson. Yes, I wanted to make soup instead of gravy aka chowder in some places. I love using every part I can of my fish, and usually put up some “soup packets” in the freezer. To the person that asked if she could use salmon chunks- that is mostly what I had in my packet this time, on accounta I’m still honing my filleting skills. I understood that I wouldn’t get the collagen rich broth, but what surprised me was the amount of albumin I got. The thing was, I had read about “that white stuff” being caused by cooking too hot or fast, so I put the salmon in with the herbs and seasoning and a can of chicken broth, plus water, and set it at a very low temp, like a 3 on the 1-10 of an electric stove. My intent was to gently poach the salmon and remove it then saute the veg and add to the broth, add the cooked salmon at the very end. That albumin really came out in my broth and covered my salmon, too. The first time I checked it, after about 30 minutes, it wasn’t even cooked through, so hard to imagine it was at too high a temp. I don’t know if my Chinook was particularly high in protein or what, but wanted to tell y’all. I used what I had which was half and half, and it wasn’t too noticeable in the final product but not real pretty in the soup, that amorphous goop.
    Hank, by now, you might be all, dang, get chur own blog, but like I said just wanted to share. I love the addition of the corn, and other vegetables that I would not have thought of, and the recipe really gave me more than I was looking for.

  10. Great dinner. I made it a bit protein deficient since I didn’t put bacon or salmon chunks in. I just wanted to use up my salmon broth I made earlier. Looking forward to trying it again but following it through as it’s written.

  11. Made it without the butter and with leftover cream cheese instead of cream. My husband thinks it is the best fish soup I’ve ever made. It’s a keeper!

  12. Anyone done this with hot smoked salmon? I was thinking of just adding in my own smoked salmon (12hr brine/5hr smoke) at the end. Thought I’d make it a day in advance to let all of the flavors combine. Thinks this will work day?

  13. Made this with actual fresh caught salmon. It’s extremely hot out but when you have fresh ingredients you go with it. It wasn’t complicated and turned out very well. I doubled the batch and hope some of it will freeze okay. Very flavorful and satisfying. I do feel like I smell like salmon now but that can be fixed 🙂 I admit I cheated on the stock and didn’t add all the herbs, but it still tastes excellent.

  14. I made this tonight for my family and it turned out great! I added a flour slurry before the cream to make it thick the way my family is used to. It was really nice to be able to use something that others would normally throw out and turn it into something delicious! Thank you.

  15. So, this may elicit a volatile response but I make my salmon chowder using evaporated milk instead of cream. Its a less heavy substitute but still gives a great flavour.

  16. Just made this. Added just a touch of dry sherry. Is great.

    I just wish stores would save trimmings and heads. I can only get them when the right person is working the counter.

  17. I love this recipe! I make it all the time. On more than one occasion I’ve had people tell me “I don’t usually like seafood” as they’re going back for seconds. I have a whole load of heads and bones from dipnetting (up here in Alaska) so I’m gonna make a lot of stock, and then disregard your sage advice against pressure canning. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  18. As someone originally from Minnesota, I have to say that eating gloppy chowder is not the what people in the Midwest necessarily like. It is simply what is served in so many places. I have had gloppy chowder in all parts of the country, including on the East Coast and here in the great NW (most recently Astoria)! I have always made my own non-gloppy version both in Minnesota and in Oregon.

  19. So my wife made this yesterday, and it was dynamite. Hadn’t ever made fish broth before so I was admittedly nervous about how “fishy” it would be. As I learned a few years back, just place your faith in the man, and follow his directions, and he never lets you down.

    We ended up with enough extra broth to make another batch.

    Will this broth keep if pressure canned?

    As is usually the case, this would be a piece of cake if you had the broth ready to go….

      1. Like Hank says, just freeze it. Gonna’ be the same volume either way, so why not optimize the flavor and freeze it. I just made the broth with the head and ribs from a fall Chinook we caught Friday. Saved the spine meat for fish tacos! Cheeks and pelvic fins for pupus! Nice collars on a 15.5 pounder, so grill those up too. Shake kama with ponzu!

  20. So, if I really prefer thick chowder do I just add more heavy cream? I really prefer the thick ones myself and have never made chowder. I have a bunch of salmon in the freezer and want to try new things. Thanks!

    1. Mike: Really thick chowders are made with a flour-and-butter roux. I happen to loathe them, so I never make chowder that way. Look for a typical New England clam chowder recipe and go from there.