Looking for an easy, great meal? This restaurant-quality fish chowder recipe will transport you straight to New England. It's deliciously light with flaky fish, vegetables, bacon, and thickened with coconut milk. A one-pot wonder that's dairy free, gluten-free and on the table in less than an hour!
I combined chunks of tender salmon and mahi mahi to be the stars of this ‘chowdah’. Baby red potatoes, leeks, carrots, celery, plenty of garlic, thyme and a pinch of saffron add amazing aromatic flavor.
The light, creamy consistency comes from clam juice (or broth), white wine and coconut milk, which lets the delicate flavors of the fish shine through. You can always use a splash of heavy cream if not concerned with dairy.
And if you’re looking for more easy and gratifying fish recipes, check out our jerk salmon quinoa bowls, seared ahi tuna tacos, cod asparagus and fennel packets, sheet pan salmon and veggies, and halibut broccolini and zucchini packets!
Why You’ll Love this Easy Fish Chowder Recipe
- Scrumptiously satisfying!
- Customize with different fish and vegetables
- On the table in less than an hour
- Naturally gluten and dairy free
- Can be made ahead!
Amount of each ingredient is included in the recipe card below.
- Fish – salmon and mahi mahi (see below for substitutions)
- Vegetables – baby red potatoes or Yukon gold, leeks, carrots, celery, garlic
- Herbs & Spices – fresh thyme, saffron, salt and black pepper
- Liquid – clam juice, fish stock or vegetables broth; white wine, coconut milk
What type of fish is best for fish chowder?
You want to use a ‘meaty’ fish with medium density like salmon, mahi mahi, cod, haddock, halibut, grouper and snapper. Avoid thin filleted, delicate fish like tilapia, sole and flounder along with those that are high density like swordfish and tuna.
The Not-So Secret Ingredient Is…
Saffron! This spice always garners attention and for good reason. Its subtle earthy, grassy, sweet and floral notes are unmistakable. Plus, it brings a unique golden hue to every dish it graces.
The subtle flavors of saffron play beautifully with this fish chowder. The salmon and mahi-mahi are perfectly enhanced with this spice and the other aromatics.
When buying saffron, keep in mind, the deeper the color of the threads, the better the quality. Saffron is sold in most supermarkets, and you can order it online.
To gather all those pricey little threads, it takes 75,000 blossoms of the saffron crocus to get 225,000 hand-picked stigmas for a single pound, according to The Epicentre. With such a labor-intensive process, it's no surprise saffron is the world's most expensive spice.
To create 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 haven’t tried it, but if you do, please leave a comment!
Step-by Step Instructions
Cook Bacon: In a Dutch oven or large pot, cook chopped bacon until crisp over medium heat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer crispy bacon pieces to a paper towel lined plate to drain excess grease.
Cook Vegetables: Maintain heat on stove and add the chopped carrots, leeks and celery to the rendered bacon fat to cook until softened, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. Mix in garlic and cook a couple minutes more.
Add Liquids: Stir in all liquids except for the coconut milk. Carefully drop in potatoes and saffron. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.
Add Coconut Milk, thyme and bacon pieces. Reserve a few bacon bits for garnish when serving. After adding the coconut milk you’ll have enough liquid to cook the fish.
Add Fish: Generously season fish with kosher salt and black pepper. They should be cut into 1 ½ - 2-inch pieces. Gently submerge them into the chowder.
Partially cover and cook on a low simmer until the fish is tender, and the mahi-mahi is just opaque in the center. The salmon can still be medium.
Then grab bowls, spoons and a ladle and call your gang to the dinner table. Enjoy!
Fish Chowder Recipe Tips
- No need to peel the potatoes first, which saves time.
- Waxy potatoes are best for stew and chowder recipes. Russet potatoes can fall apart.
- Try to cut the fish in uniform-size pieces for even cooking.
- Don’t overcook the fish! You don’t want the chunks to be tough and dry.
- You can make the fish stew a day or two ahead. Reheat over medium-low heat so the fish doesn’t overcook.
Chowder recipes can go in many different directions so enjoy experimenting!
- Change up the fish or add other seafood, like shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels
- Try a tomato-based Manhattan fish chowder
- Add other vegetables to the mix – sweet corn, bell peppers, mushrooms or butternut squash
- Change the flavor profile with different spices, like old bay seasoning, cayenne pepper for heat, or fish sauce for a bit of briny sweetness.
What to Serve with Fish Chowder
You definitely want a loaf of crusty bread, biscuits, cornbread or oyster crackers to sop up the chowder’s delightful broth. And here are a few more side dish ideas:
Fish Chowder FAQs
A chowder is a hearty soup with large chunks of meat, seafood and vegetables, especially potatoes. It starts with a base of bacon or salt pork then vegetables like onions, carrots, and celery cook in the bacon fat. Most chowders are creamy, but Manhattan clam or fish chowder has a tomato base.
For a creamier chowder, you can use coconut cream rather than coconut milk. Or, make a cornstarch slurry by mixing equal parts cornstarch and chowder broth in a small cup before adding to the soup. Add more slurry until you reach your desired consistency.
Store the fish chowder in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. After that time it will begin to smell fishy. Reheat over medium-low heat on the stove or microwave.
You can freeze the chowder, but the consistency may change when thawed. Freeze for no more than 1 month and thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
More Soup and Stew Recipes
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Easy Fish Chowder Recipe with Coconut Milk
- 6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 leeks, halved lengthwise and chopped, white and light green parts only
- 1 fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- ½ cup celery, diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 2 ½ cups clam juice, fish stock or vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 pound baby potatoes, halved
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 cup coconut milk, lite or regular
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 pound salmon, skinless , cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
- 1 pound mahi-mahi fillets, skinless, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
- In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat.
- Add leeks, fennel, carrots and celery to the pot. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
- Stir in clam juice or stock, wine, water, potatoes, and saffron. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes.
- Keep heat on medium low. Stir in coconut milk, thyme and bacon pieces. Reserve a few bacon bits for garnish.
- Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper. Gently submerge the pieces into the chowder.
- Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes until the mahi-mahi is just opaque in the center. The salmon can still be medium.
- Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle into bowls, top with reserved bacon, and serve with bread, if desired. Enjoy!
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Troy Shen says
Brilliant recipe. Was exactly what I was looking for!
Kim Peterson says
Awesome! So happy you enjoyed it!
Erik Morin says
What a perfect and easy recipe. Adding the saffron is an inspired touch.
Kim Peterson says
Thanks so much! Thrilled you like it!
Ben | Havocinthekitchen says
Kim, this chowder looks and sounds fantastic; so hearty, chunky, and delicious. I particularly love the addition of leeks and fennel. Yay to the season of soul-warming soup and stew recipes!
Kim Peterson says
So on board with you Ben! This is a chowder for all seasons and especially loving it now. 🙂