Chaudrée comes from ‘cooking in a cauldron’ – the large iron pot used by fishermen along the north Atlantic fringe, chaudière in French. Chowder is the anglicisation of chaudière and possibly chaudumel, the name given to the earliest fish stews in Gaul. In France it is associated with the traditional food of the Vendée and Charente coast in the west but it is also a tradition in the Côte d’Opale in the north.
The classic chaudrée contained variations of the seafood known as the small fry – cuttlefish, eel, gurnet, skate, sole. It was generally made with garlic, onions, potatoes and white wine with butter, cream, milk, herbs and seasonings. While variations of this basic recipe have persisted, the modern chaudrée is just as likely to contain cockles and clams, such as the chaudrée of the Côte d’Opale, or haddock and plaice, such as the chaudrée of La Rochelle or combinations from brill, conger eel, gurnard, monkfish and turbot that make chaudrée charentaise such a sumptuous feast, closer to the fish soup of Brittany called cotriade.
- 1 kg assorted fish (from eel, haddock, gurnard, monkfish, plaice, sole), cut into equal-sized pieces
- 1 kg potatoes, cut into large chunks
- 1 litre salted water
- 800 g onions, chopped small
- 500 ml white wine
- 45 g butter
- 10 peppercorns
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 small bouquet garni
Melt the butter in a large pot, sauté the garlic and onions over a medium heat for ten minutes. Deglaze with wine, add bouquet garni, peppercorns and water and bring to the boil. Meanwhile cook the potatoes in a separate pot. Add the fish to the wine-water liquid, simmer for five minutes, test the fish. If it is cooked keep it warm with the potatoes and reduce the wine-water-fish stock by almost a half. Serve the fish and potatoes in bowls with the stock.