Legendary Dishes | Chowder (fish and vegetable soup)


Heavenly Chowders

Irish chowder is a personal preference, so much that home cooks and restaurant and pub chefs contest the issue. Once a simple traditional soup made with assorted fish flavoured with wild plants, the Irish version lost its way for several centuries until it was slowly revived in the 1970s with American chowder as the inspiration.

This is a selection of chowder recipes from various sources. Bear one thing in mind when you make your own chowder, the secret is fish as fresh as it comes.

Irish Pub Chowder — The Original

Irish seafood chowder was reinvented as a pub food, usually served as a main portion with wheaten soda bread. The first chowders were influenced by the Guinness school for pub cooks and featured the usual suspects — shellfish, white fish, smoked fish and salmon. Cream was a constant in most recipes, potatoes and vegetables were not! The base could be a white sauce, it could also be flour and water. The stock was made from fish but it could also be bottled clam juice.

  • 800 ml fish stock
  • 400 ml water, warmed
  • 300 g clams, steamed, shells discarded
  • 300 g mussels, steamed, shells discarded
  • 300 g shrimp / small prawns, scallops), cut small 
  • 300 g salmon (optional), cut small
  • 2 (300 g) white leeks, sliced thin
  • 100 g onion, sliced thin
  • 100 g carrot, grated
  • 60 ml white wine (optional)
  • 30 g + 30 g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp white wheat flour
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 g black pepper
  • 5 g salt
  • 1 tbsp chives, chopped 

Melt 30 grams of the butter over a medium heat in a frying pan, add the flour to make a paste. Remove from heat, leave to cool for a few minutes, then add the milk, whisk until smooth. Melt remaining butter in a large pot over a medium heat, add the carrots, half the garlic, leek and onion. Cover and sweat for 10 minutes over a high heat for the first five minutes and a medium to low heat for the second five minutes. Add the stock, wine (if using), and remaining garlic. Over a high heat reduce the liquid to around a half. Add the mussels, prawns or shrimp, scallops and salmon, cook for three minutes. Stir in the white sauce, season and taste for heat and flavour. Add more salt if necessary. Serve with bread, garnish with chives.

Monks of Ballyvaughan Chowder

A speciality of this County Clare pub for many years, this is a cream and flour based chowder.

  • 500 g fish fillets from hake and salmon, cut into large chunks
  • 500 ml fish stock / clam juice
  • 500 ml milk
  • 500 ml whipped cream
  • 15 fresh mussels
  • 250 g vegetables from carrots (diced), corn, green beans (cut small), peas 
  • 125 g fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, cut into 2 cm pieces
  • 100 ml water
  • 1 tbsp flour dissolved in 4 tbsp water
  • 30 ml white wine
  • Lemon wedges to garnish

Pour the water and wine into a pot large enough to hold the mussels, bring to the boil, add mussels, cover and steam for three minutes. Remove mussels with slotted spoon. Any that have not opened discard. When they are cold, remove from shells and chop coarsely.

Combine the fish stock and milk in a large pot, bring to a simmer. Add vegetables, simmer until they begin to soften.

Add the fish fillets and shrimp, simmer until almost cooked, about three minutes. Stir in the cream, then slowly stir in the flour-water mixture to thicken. Simmer for five minutes, add mussels, season and serve in soup bowls garnished with a wedge of lemon.

Burren Smokehouse Seafood Chowder with Sea Vegetables

Nowadays cream or a white sauce to thicken the chowder is frowned upon by cooks and chefs who seek maximum flavour in their chowders and want to minimise the fat content. Carrageen is a great thickener and when combined with dulse / dillisk it can add a depth of flavour that is unique in soups. Add to this a base made with leek and onions sweated in butter and you have a delightful dish that has charmed millions of visitors to Ireland because of its variety.

  • 570 ml milk / water
  • 570 ml water
  • 250 g carrot, diced small
  • 250 g white leek, diced small
  • 250 g onion, sliced
  • 250 g potatoes, diced small
  • 225 g hake fillets, cubed 1 cm
  • 225 g pollack fillets, cubed 1 cm
  • 115 g mussels
  • 115 g prawns
  • 115 g Burren smoked salmon, cubed small
  • 25 g butter
  • 10 g dulse / dillisk
  • 10 g carragheen soaked in 90 ml warm water for 60 minutes
  • Seasonings

Melt the butter in a saucepan and sweat the onions, leeks and carrots over a high heat, about five minutes. Add water, dulse / dillisk and carragheen, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and the milk. Simmer until potatoes are soft. Add the fish, and simmer for three minutes, season. Remove from heat, serve.

The Bay Tree Smoked Fish Chowder

When head chef Sue Farmer pondered whether to keep the smoked fish chowder that drew people to her restaurant in Holywood, County Down, the inevitable happened.  ‘A lot of people tell me that they really love this smoked fish chowder, and it delights me to hear that. But it also presents me with a dilemma: do we keep putting it on the menu, or research and change? I stagger between the two.’

In the end she amended her menu!

This is one of the classic chowders, equal amounts of fish, potato and cream. Her lunchtime version was a soup starter, light on fish and potato, with smoked salmon preferred over the nightime main course version with smoked cod or smoked haddock.

  • 1.5 litres fish stock
  • 400 g potatoes, cut into 3 cm dice
  • 400 g smoked cod or smoked haddock, cut into 3 cm dice
  • 400 ml whipped cream
  • 200 g green leek, sliced thin
  • 150 g onion, chopped small
  • 150 g celery, destringed, chopped small
  • 150 g sweetcorn
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 30 g butter
  • 3 tbsp parsley, chopped

Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large pot, add the celery, leek, onion, potatoes and sweetcorn. Cover and sweat over a high heat for five minutes. Add the stock, simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Add the fish with the cream, cook for five minutes. Adjust seasoning, add lemon juice to taste and finish with the parsley. 

Boston Chowder

Recorded in the Boston Cooking School cookbook of 1896, this was a typical fish and potato soup of the region, and one of the recipes that inspired modern Irish chowders. We have adapted the method slightly.

  • 2 kg cod or haddock, deboned, flesh cut into 3 cm cubes, head, backbone and tail set aside
  • 1 litre milk, warmed
  • 1 kg potatoes cut into 3 cm cubes, parboiled for five minutes
  • 1 litre water (half the amount for a thicker chowder)
  • 150 g onion, sliced
  • 8 crackers, soaked in sufficient milk to soften
  • 4 cm cube fat salt pork, cut small
  • 45 g butter
  • 15 g salt
  • Black pepper, large pinch

Melt the pork fat in a large pot, add the onions, cover and sweat over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Strain the fat into a new pot, add the fish bones and water. Bring to the boil, simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cooked potatoes to the onion pot, stir. Strain the fish stock into the onion pot. Add the butter, milk, softened crackers and seasonings. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and add fish. Cook for five minutes. Serve.