Recipe: Oven-baked Seafood Chowder

Chowder?  Baked?  Sounds completely off the wall.  However, this is the best method of preparing consistently good seafood chowder that I have ever run into, and it is loosely based on Elizabeth Yarnell’s recipe for “Ed’s Fish Chowder” in her Dutch Oven cookbook Glorious One-Pot Meals.  This is not what afficionados would call a proper chowder.  If it were, it would contain clams, potatoes, onion, salt pork, and milk.  Period.  This is more of a seafood stew with a variety of fish and shellfish, potatoes, and vegetables.

You will need: a cast iron Dutch Oven (enameled works well) at least 3 qt. capacity, or other heavy, high-heat tolerant, oven-safe pot.

Ingredients:
4 slices bacon, chopped
4-6 leaves Swiss chard, separated from stems and chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
3-4 med. red potatoes, 1/2″-dice (optionally peeled)
3-4 mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper (fresh or frozen is fine)
2 Tbsp + up to 1 qt milk (fat free half-and-half recommended)
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
Salt & Pepper

Seafood – there’s plenty of room for variability here.  If fresh seafood is prohibitively expensive where you live, purely canned/frozen items work fine.  If, like me, you are fortunate to live by the ocean, feel free to put in the reasonably good stuff.  Since this is a very rustic fish stew, however, it is not the right dish for especially fine seafood.  You’ll want to use around 2.5 lb total seafood here.  For this go-round, I used:

1/2 lb fresh, raw bay scallops, rinsed
1/2 lb fresh, raw cod fillet
2 cans (12 oz) chopped clams, drained and liquid reserved
6 raw, frozen jumbo shrimp, peeled deveined tail-on

Other suggestions: fresh or frozen whitefish fillets similar in texture to cod (haddock, tilapia, sole, roughy, etc.), lump crabmeat (canned or fresh), lobster (though this dish is a trifle unrefined for lobster), canned tiny shrimp/Maine shrimp

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 deg F.  In small frying pan or skillet, render the bacon until it is fully cooked and crispy.  Remove to paper towel to drain.  Prepare pot by applying thin coating of cooking oil or non-stick cooking spray to inner surface.  Scatter chopped celery in single layer on bottom of pan.  Next add the potatoes.  This is a very rustic soup/stew, so I leave the skins on.  Top potatoes with fish fillets, then add shellfish, and finally the clams.  Season the fish with a few twists of freshly ground black pepper.  DO NOT ADD SALT YET.  Top seafood with sliced mushrooms, then half of the chopped greens, then the bacon, then the rest of the greens, and finally the chopped pepper.  To the reserved liquid from the clams, add 2 Tbsp milk and the Old Bay.  Whisk with fork and pour over all.  Cover the pot and bake for 40 mins, or until seafood is cooked through and potatoes are tender.  Remove from oven, stir to break up fish and combine ingredients, dilute with remaining milk, and taste for seasoning.  Serves 5-6 as a soup course, or 4 as a hearty meal by itself with some crusty bread.

Note: I recommend not adding any salt to the pot at first.  The bacon, of course, is quite salty, and any canned seafood you use will have salt in it, plus the Old Bay contains some salt.  That’s a lot of salt already, and the chowder may not need any more.  Wait until you can taste it before adding any salt.  If you are using all canned seafood, I suggest you rinse it well first and maybe even cut back on the bacon if necessary.  Have some extra milk on hand just in case.  In this particular iteration, I did not add any extra salt whatsoever.

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