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Seafood Chowder (Atlantic Canada)


Atlantic Canada is not really known for its food. Some people coming to the region for a visit tend to pack a lunch if they’ve been here before.

We have to admit we do some weird stuff here. Cinnamon, and I think allspice, are prominent spices in the tomato sauce that goes onto many pizzas in this region. Among the most popular lunches is a peculiar wrap sandwich called a donair, a kind of cheapened gyro filled with a pseudo-meat that is served with a rather sweet gloop that’s a lot closer to a cake icing mistake than any kind of traditional garlic sauce. We’re also huge on deep fried food, which of course means we tend to be huge.

Yeah, anyway, pack a lunch if you're heading to the Canadian East Coast.

One saving culinary grace in this region is our ability to make a really great chowder. Our diet may revolve way too much around Toonie Tuesday at Taco Bell, but it seems just about everybody around here has some great tips on making a great seafood chowder. I recently had a bowl of fresh chowder at the Snug Harbour Restaurant in Liverpool, Nova Scotia and once again was floored by the natural ability here to make great chowder. The Boardwalk Restaurant over in Digby, Nova Scotia makes an absolutely killer chowder too.

So here’s how I slap mine together. My recipe uses a myriad of tips that I’ve picked up over the 11 years I’ve been out here (I’ll note though that I’ve been the son of Nova Scotia-born parents for all of my 39 years). This is a soup that eats like a meal of course and goes great with any kind of biscuit, bread or cracker product you can get your hands on.

Since it’s such a popular dish in Atlantic Canada, all places that sell fish here always stock “chowder mix” an economical mix of scrap bits of all kinds of fish they may be selling. The good mixes will have nice large chunks of everything from Atlantic Salmon and haddock to ocean scallops. Watch for ones though that tend to dump pre-cooked shrimp in with the raw fish. Those little things become little rubber pellets once re-cooked with the raw fish. Also, always pick through your mix to find any bones. Chowder mix pieces are often bits that are first cut off a large filet before the filet to be sold is de-boned. You don’t want to catch one of those in your gums! Go through your mix to cut larger chunks down to a size that’ll fit on a spoon as well.

So now that we’ve talked about the fish, let’s get to the most important ingredient in any seafood chowder: bacon. Don’t skimp on this ingredient. The smokey, rich flavour of a very good quality bacon is one of the main base flavours of your chowder. Source the good stuff.

One ingredient I’ve recently started to make use of is clam juice. This is typically sold in 250 ml bottles and a great value for only $1.69. Along with the bacon, this adds great depth and wonderful flavour to your chowder.

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  • 3 or 4 slices good bacon, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 or 3 Yukon Gold (or other high starch potato such as Idaho or Russet) potatoes, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 250 ml bottle of clam juice
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 lb mixed seafood, de-boned and cut into small bits
  • 1 cup cream (18 per cent milk fat, known here as “coffee cream”).
  • pinch of thyme
  • salt and plenty of fresh cracked black pepper


Adapted from


Step 1

1. Start by heating a large soup pot, preferably stainless steel (not non-stick) over medium high heat, then adding the bacon. Stir and fry the bacon until it’s nicely browned. Pour off all but about a tablespoon of the fat that accumulates.

2. Reduce heat to medium and add the butter.

3. Add the onion and celery and saute gently for about five minutes until the onion is nice and soft.
Add one (just one!) clove of the garlic and stir for a few seconds.

4. Add in the potato, the clam juice, water and bay leaves and bring the mixture to a rapid boil over high heat.

5. Keep the heat at medium-high and boil it hard for 10 minutes. This helps to release starch from the potato which helps to thicken the chowder later.

6. Reduce heat to medium-low and add in the seafood. Simmer very gently for five to eight minutes.

7. At this point, the chowder can be cooled and stored until you’re ready to finish and serve it later. When ready to serve, add in the cream, a pinch of dried thyme, a very finely minced clove of garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

8. I personally like a chowder that has that rich flavour of fresh garlic (not too much though) and is very peppery.

9. Bring the pot just to a steaming hot (don’t let it boil) temperature over medium-low heat, about ten minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve with bread, biscuits or crackers and a side donair.

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