Fish Leek and Potato Chowder with Saffron


This Fish Leek and Potato Chowder is a delicious, bouillabaisse-style stew kissed with saffron, thyme, and cream. A one-pot wonder that’s gluten-free and on the table in less than an hour!

If you’re not quite sure what bouillabaisse is, no worries! It’s simply a rich, flavorful, and sometimes spicy stew that originated in Provence, France made with various kinds of fish and seafood. You can go a bunch of different ways with this dish when combining fish, seafood, vegetables and aromatics. I used thick chunks of halibut. Other fish with medium density, like cod, grouper, sea bass, or salmon would be great as well. Better yet, combine two or three if you can’t decide!

Also, I opted for leeks over onions and love how they pair with fennel, which along with saffron, is a traditional ingredient in classic bouillabaisse. Use a variety of fingerling potatoes for a pop of color and complementary texture that absorbs the chowder’s awesome flavor. You can even dial up the heat with a dash of cayenne pepper if you like!

Fish Leek and Potato Chowder Ingredients

Saffron always garners attention when in a recipe, and for good reason. To gather all those pricey little threads, it takes 75,000 blossoms of the saffron crocus to get 225,000 hand-picked stigmas, according to The Epicentre,  for a single pound. With such a labor-intensive process, it’s no surprise saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. Saffron is sold in most supermarkets, and you can always order it online. If you’d like a substitute, Iron Chef and The Kitchen co-host, Geoffrey Zakarian, suggests combining ½ teaspoon paprika with ¼ teaspoon turmeric, which is also known as Indian saffron. I have not tried this, but please let me know if you do!

Saffron close up

It’s time to fire up the stove! Chopped bacon gets the party started in a large Dutch oven or stock pot that’s at least 6 quarts in size. The fat rendered from the bacon is used to cook the leeks, fennel, and garlic for added depth of flavor.

Bacon Sizzling for Fish ChowderLeeks Fennel and Garlic Cooking for Fish Chowder

Once the vegetables are softened and caramelized, the potatoes get happy swimming with the broth, wine, saffron, thyme, and bay leaf. The bacon will rejoin the gang after the potatoes cook along with a splash of cream.The hunks of halibut then nestle atop the chowder to steam. You want the fish to be just opaque in the center and to flake easily.

Potatoes Broth and Spices Added to ChowderHalibut Nestled In Fish ChowderFish Leek and Potato Chowder with Saffron and Thyme

The potatoes are tender, the fish is flaking, and you’re starving. Bust out the big soup bowls and start ladling. Top off with extra crumbled bacon, thyme leaves, and dig in. Have a loaf of your favorite crusty bread on hand to mop up whatever your spoon can’t quite get. Enjoy!

Fish Leek and Potato Chowder with Saffron and Thyme

If you’re craving more quick and delicious fish recipes, you can enjoy these any night of the week. Cheers!!

Fish Leek and Potato Chowder with Saffron and Thyme
Fish Leek and Potato Chowder with Saffron
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
50 mins
Deliciously light, bouillabaisse-style chowder with hunks of halibut, leeks, fennel, and fingerling potatoes kissed with saffron and cream. Serve with crusty bread for dipping!
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Fish, French
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Kim Peterson
  • ¼ lb bacon, 4-5 slices, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 leeks, halved lengthwise and chopped, white and light green parts only
  • 1 large fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons garlic, minced (4-5 cloves)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or bottled clam juice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ lbs fingerling potatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick rounds
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 2 lbs halibut* cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
  1. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, 5-7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Add leeks and fennel to the same pot. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in broth or clam juice, wine, potatoes, thyme and saffron. Add bay leaf. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Stir in cream and bacon. Reserve 1-2 tablespoons of crumbled bacon for garnish, if desired.
  2. Sprinkle halibut with salt and pepper; place on top of chowder. Cover and cook for 4 minutes. Uncover and carefully flip the halibut pieces. Cover again and cook until fish is opaque in the center, 2-3 minutes** more. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle into bowls, top with reserved bacon, and serve with crusty bread.
Recipe Notes

*Cod, grouper, salmon, or sea bass will also work well. Fish with medium density are best for this dish. I would not recommend using thin fillets like flounder, sole, or tilapia.

**Cooking time may vary depending on the density of the fish.

*Generously adapted from Bon Appétit, October 2004

Fish Leek & Potato Chowder with Saffron - Give it Some Thyme

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