How to Make Chowder
A chowder is a thick, rich, chunky soup usually made with a white sauce base though Manhattan chowders have a tomato base. Originally, it was a fishermen’s stew made with seafood but today, vegetable chowders are common such as corn chowder and potato chowder.
Chowders typically have five parts:
- The vegetables or seafood, the focal ingredient of the soup.
- Ancillary ingredients which may include cream, diced onions, bacon, or herbs.
- The cooking liquid—usually broth or stock.
- A thickening agent—usually cornstarch, flour, or potatoes.
- Seasonings including salt and pepper.
There are two main methods for making chowder based on how the thickening agent is incorporated into the soup. In the first, the flour is stirred into melted fat or butter in the pan and cooked until it is golden color. The stock is slowly added, stirring with a whisk to remove any lumps.
In the second method, the starch is added after the soup is assembled. A small amount of the liquid is added to the starch and the starch is dissolved in the liquid to make a paste. More liquid is added to the paste until is thinned to a sauce. The sauce is whisked back into the soup and the soup is reheated until it starts to bubble. As the starch approaches boiling, it gelatinizes and thickens the liquid.
To make a chowder:
- Sauté the vegetables in butter or cook the bacon. The vegetables should be just tender and translucent. Do not overcook them.
- If you are going to incorporate the starch now, do so. Cook the flour until is a creamy yellow color.
- Whisk in the stock until smooth. Add any long cooking vegetables, such as potatoes or carrots, and meat along with the seasonings. Continue to cook the soup. For best flavor, soups should simmer for an hour. Add any quick cooking vegetables such as peas after the soup has simmered. Shrimp should be added late in this stage since they cook quickly.
- If you are adding the starch to the assembled soup, you can do so now using the method outlined above.
- Make any final adjustments to the soup adding more seasoning or more thickening if needed.
Tips and troubleshooting for your chowder:
- Your chowder should be velvety smooth and about the consistency of heavy cream. If it is too thick, thin it with more stock. If too thin, add more starch as outlined above.
- Don’t use too much cream. Cream will mask the flavors of the soup.
- If you feel that you’ve added enough starch and the soup is still thin, bring the soup to a simmer. Grain starches gelatinize from 175 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit, just below a boil. Your soup will not thicken at lower temperatures.
- If the soup has a pasty taste and mouth feel, there is either too much starch in the soup or the starch is not cooked.
- If the flavor is weak, it is likely that there is not enough of the main ingredient to impart the desired flavor.