Love moving into soup n’ stew season and ready to cozy up with this Saffron Fish Chowder with Leeks and Fennel. It’s a deliciously light, bouillabaisse-style chowder with hunks of tender salmon and mahi-mahi. A healthy one-pot wonder that’s dairy free, gluten-free and on the table in less than an hour.
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What is Bouillabaisse?
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.
Key Ingredients & Substitutions
I used thick hunks of salmon and mahi-mahi, but other fish with medium density, like cod, grouper, sea bass, or halibut would be great as well. Choose whatever your gang likes best!
Also, I opted for leeks over onions and love how they pair with fennel, which along with saffron, is a traditional ingredient in classic french bouillabaisse.
Use baby or fingerling potatoes for a pop of color and complementary texture that absorbs the chowder’s delicious flavor. You can even dial up the heat with a bit of cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes.
What’s so special about saffron?
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 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.
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 it, but holler if you do!
Using just one pot, skillet or sheet pan are among my favorite ways to cook throughout the year. In this case all ingredients are added to a large Dutch oven or stock pot in succession for layers of flavor and easy clean up.
I used chopped bacon to get the party started in a pot that’s at least 6 quarts. About a tablespoon of fat rendered from the bacon is used to cook the leeks, fennel, and garlic for added depth of flavor. You may by all means use olive or vegetable oil if you’d rather skip the bacon. Your call!
Once the vegetables are softened and caramelized, the potatoes get happy swimming with the broth, wine, and saffron. The bacon, if you’re including, rejoins the gang after the potatoes cook along with thyme and coconut milk to keep the chowder dairy free. If you’re not worried about dairy then substitute light cream or half and half.
The hunks of salmon and mahi-mahi are the last to join and nestle into the chowder to cook for about five minutes. You want the fish to be just opaque in the center and to flake easily.
Now that the potatoes are tender and the fish is flaking, bust out the big 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. Stay warm and eat well! xx, Kim
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Saffron Fish Chowder with Leeks and Fennel
- 6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 leeks, halved lengthwise and chopped, white and light green parts only
- 1 large fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- ½ cup celery, diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 2 ½ cups vegetable stock or bottled clam juice
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 pound baby potatoes, halved
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
- 1 cup coconut milk, lite or regular
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 pound each salmon and mahi-mahi fillets*, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
- 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. 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 broth or clam juice, wine, 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 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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