At Oak Bay Seafood, we believe in securing the highest quality of fish and seafood for our customers—all so that you can make delicious meals.

Sometimes we like to give you some inspiration on what exactly to do with our products, which is why this month, we’re going to do a deep dive (pun intended!) on that classic seafood dish: chowder (which can also be bought prepared from us directly).

Classic Chowder

It’s a rustic classic, perfect for the colder months, and a traditional recipe that stretches back to seafaring days—but what exactly is seafood chowder? 

At its core, it’s a simple concept: just a seafood stew thickened with either cream, milk, or occasionally, a roux. But with that simplicity, comes the endless potential for variation, so let’s dig into the history of chowder, to get a true feel for this homely delight. 

While there is a wide range of riffs and reinventions of the seafood chowder, there is indisputably only one classic chowder—that quintessential creamy stew we all associate with the dish. The origins of this dish can be traced back to northern France in the 18th century, and it persisted as a dish that was common both at sea and in coastal areas such as Maine. 

In fact, the legend goes that the first clam chowder was created by shipwrecked French soldiers, who after coming aground on the coast of Maine, swam to shore with what few provisions they could carry, and cooked in a Chaudiere, a large pot named after the French word for cauldron. Apocryphal this may be, it demonstrates why by the 18th and 19th centuries, the chowder was ever present in American cookbooks and recipes, with its comforting depth, and ability to use readily available ingredients. 

Regional Variations 

It’s those recipes that would evolve into the most famous style of chowder, the New England Clam chowder. This is a thickened creamy soup, often made with potatoes and clams in a milk broth, thickened with a roux. This will often be complemented by either slab bacon or salt pork for depth, and key aromatics such as bay leaf, celery, garlic, leeks, carrots, and thyme. 

However, there is also a wide range of regional variations for seafood chowder, with the most famous being the Manhattan Clam Chowder. This tomato-based variation that began to appear in the 20th century is undoubtedly the most controversial, so much so that in 1939 Maine passed a bill banning the addition of tomatoes to New England Clam chowder! This dish is a red broth that uses tomatoes instead of milk, perhaps influenced by the Portuguese immigrants who arrived in Rhode Island. 

For our own take on seafood chowder, we don’t stray too far from the classic white recipe, except we pack ours with the finest seafood we have to offer. Which means, cod, halibut, salmon, shrimp, and rockfish! Not only is it bursting with seafood depth and flavour, but our skilled cooks have also ensured it has the perfect balance of aromatics and seasonings. Whether you’re ordering it fresh at our restaurant, or ready-made to enjoy at home through our website, this is a fantastic dish that we highly recommend!