Julia Child’s Favorite Fish ChowderPhoto Credit : Amy Traverso
By all measures, Julia Child’s favorite fish chowder is a truly traditional fish chowder recipe. First, it’s made with fish, not clams, in the style of the oldest recorded recipes. It uses salt pork rather than bacon, also traditional. And common crackers and potatoes thicken the broth, rather than flour. But somehow, knowing that Julia Child loved this recipealso makes it feel just a little bit French.
Perhaps it’s the way she slices the onions into thin rounds, in the style of French onion soup. (The potatoes are also sliced, not cubed in the way of most chowders.) Or maybe it’s because some of the earliest fish chowder recipes can be traced back to coast of France, where the stews were cooked in large vessels called chaudieres. Whatever the reason, this delicious recipe for fish chowder, which we’ve adapted slightly, has Julia’s stamp of approval, and it should be a regular part of your repertoire.
Salt pork, which is similar to bacon but unsmoked, can vary in its saltiness, so Julia recommends blanching it first, then browning it in just a bit of butter. The rest of the process will look very familiar to anyone who has cooked fish chowder before. For slicing the potatoes and onions, we recommend a mandoline, which produces thin, even slices in very little time.
Julia Child’s Favorite Fish Chowder, adapted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1989).
4 ounces salt pork, diced small
1 tablespoon salted butter
2 large onions, sliced thin (about 3 cups)
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup crumbled “common” crackers or oyster crackers
4 cups liquid (we prefer fish stock or a mixture of 2 cups clam juice and 2 cups water)
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into thin half-moons
2 cups milk or light cream
2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless and skinless lean fish, such as cod, hake, haddock, halibut, or pollock, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish: Minced fresh parsley, oyster crackers
In a Dutch oven, heat about 1 quart of water to boiling; add the salt pork and simmer 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Press dry with paper towels. Combine salt pork and butter back in the Dutch oven over low heat and sauté until the pork has rendered its fat and begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onions and bay leaf. Cover and cook until the onions are tender and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the cracker crumbs and stir to blend.
Add the liquid and the potatoes to the onion mixture. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, loosely covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Add the milk or cream and the chunks of fish. Cover and cook over low heat just until the fish turns from translucent to opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.