New England Clam Chowder using Homemade Fish Stock

This recipe began with the roasting of fresh whole red snappers.  As mentioned in that post, the ultimate goal of this was New England clam chowder.  Following is a recipe for what I consider to be some really excellent chowder; but first, one has to make the stock.  OK, one does not have to make the stock, but not only is fish stock much easier to make than, say, chicken stock, it also has a bigger reward.  You can buy decent chicken stock in the store but I do not feel that is the case with fish stock.

Homemade Fish Stock

The ingredients are:

  • Fish (bones, heads, lobster/shrimp shells, or even some inexpensive filets that were on sale.  Just make sure it is not from an oily fish)
  • Onions (2 medium, peeled and quartered)
  • Celery (2 stalks, coarsely chopped)
  • Mushrooms (not required but add nice depth to flavor)
  • Parsley (here you could use the stems, reserving the leaves for something else)
  • Peppercorns (whole peppercorns, about a half teaspoonful)
  • Bay Leaf (one)
  • Thyme (a tablespoon of fresh or a teaspoon of dried)
  • Fennel Seeds (just a few, like a quarter teaspoon)
  • Garlic (1 clove, chopped into 3 or 4 pieces)
  • White Wine (about 1-2 cups)
  • Water

    The bones from roasting whole fish may not look very pretty but they can be the basis for a few more great meals by using them in homemade fish stock!

Place everything but the water in a pot and bring the wine to boil for 3-5 minutes making sure it does not all cook off.  This blends the flavors of the fish, vegetables, and wine before the water is added.

Add the water.  You want the amount of water that you need for stock.  There will not be a lot of evaporation, so put in only what you need (plus maybe a little extra) so that you don’t dilute your ingredients too much.

Bring the water to a boil and turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes.  Let cool, strain into a container and discard everything else.

That’s it! It’s surprisingly easy and will make a huge difference in the taste of whatever you make with it!

Note:  There is no salt in this recipe.  While that will make the stock taste a little bland, it is because you want to reserve the control of how much salt is in whatever you make with the stock.

New England Clam Chowder

Authentic Virginia country smoked bacon gives this chowder a more rustic and hearty flavor and aroma.

New England Clam Chowder is usually light in color, gray to almost white.  For a few reasons, mine will come out more golden and while that may not set well with some purists, let your taste buds be the judge.

The recipe calls for bacon, and any store-bought bacon will do the job.  That said, every fall our family makes a trip to the Shenandoah Mountains and on the way home we stop at the legendary Sperryville Emporium where we buy a big Virginia country ham and smoked bacon.

This bacon is very smoky and more fatty than commercially sold bacon.  Most of us would not want to eat a slice of this with our eggs for breakfast.  It is, however, superb as a flavoring ingredient in things like this chowder!

This time I would use this Virginia smoked bacon for my chowder and the results would be a smokier and deeper flavor.

The ingredients are:

  • Bacon, 4oz, cut in small pieces
  • Clams. canned, 1 qt with liquid
  • Fish Stock, 1 qt
  • onion, 1 med, diced
  • potatoes, 1 lb, peeled and diced
  • celery, 3 stalks, diced
  • flour, 1 1/2 Tbs
  • Worcestershire Sauce, 1 tsp
  • bay leaf, one
  • thyme, dried, 1/2 tsp
  • milk, 2 cups
  • cream, 1 cup
  • parsley, 1/2 cup, chopped
  • hot sauce, 1/4 tsp
  • s&p

Drain the clams and reserve the liquid.  Using the clam liquid (and a little fish stock if you need more liquid) simmer the diced potatoes until nearly cooked through.  You want them to still be hard because they will cook more at the end.

Strain potatoes and again, reserve the liquid.

Do not cook the potatoes completely because they will cook more at the end.

In the pot in which you will make the soup, fry the bacon.

Add the onion and celery and saute until softened.  Classic New England Clam Chowder would not allow the vegetables to brown and here is where I begin to develop the golden color mentioned above.  I allow them to brown just slightly.  The slight caramelization develops the onion, celery and bacon flavors a little more and again, the proof is in the flavor.

Add the flour to the mixture and continue to cook.  The flour will mix with the bacon fat and form a roux which needs to be cooked for at least a minute or two to cook out the flour flavor.  Do not, however, cook the roux to a dark color as one might do for, say, gumbo.

When the roux is ready, gradually whisk in the clam liquid, then the fish stock, and the bay leaf.  Allow this to simmer for 30 minutes.  In my opinion, here is where you are really making the soup!  The bacon and veggies, the homemade fish stock, and the clam liquid are now all reducing together and the real flavor is made right here!

Saute the bacon and vegetables until just beginning to brown.

At this point put the milk in a measuring cup or bowl and microwave it until it is warm.  This way when you add it to the dish it will not halt all cooking by throwing cold milk into the mix.  Add the warm milk to the soup and bring to a simmer.

Add the potatoes and thyme and simmer until the potatoes are finished cooking.

Add the clams and season with Worcestershire, hot sauce, and s&p.  I have listed some suggested measurements above, but these are guidelines.  This step should be done to taste–your taste.  I would not add enough hot sauce to make the soup hot, that’s just not the style of soup we’re making; but, I would add a few dashes of it for just a slight bright note in the soup.

The final step is to whisk in the cream and add the chopped parsley.  Bring this to a simmer and immediately remove from heat.

The finished product, a slightly golden version of this classic New England recipe.

Once you taste this soup, you will find it very hard to get clam chowder in lunch cafe!  At the very least you will have the satisfaction when you taste it of knowing that your own chowder is better!



  1. I can’t imagine who would use water or chicken stock as a base for a chowder. Doesn’t make sense! As for me, I gently poach a whole fish with some aromatics and salt, then remove the delicately cooked meat. The bones and skin and head go back into the pot and simmer with some more aromatics until it tastes “just right”. You’ll just kinda “know” when it’s ready because you’ll want to start slurping the stock right out of the pot. That all gets strained and becomes the most delicious base for a fish chowder! The fish is already poached and gets added in at the last minute, just before the cream. If you’re making clam chowder, save the fish for a salad or something else. Delicioso!!

    1. Noted! You scared me and made me go back and check my recipe! Fortunately I not only used fish stock but I made it from scratch. I like your recipe and your method for knowing when it’s ready!

  2. Thanks for this delicious recipe! I google recipes for chowder using fish stock and discovered yours! I used a fish head and bones for the stock, adding a large onion, fresh time, garlic, parsley, cloves and cuban oregano. I used the filets for another meal a day before (grilled red snapper). I had mussels on hand, and used the flaked fish from the head and bone. My chowder had corn in it, as well. My family was singing my praises!!!

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