Creamy Halibut Chowder with Caramelized Leeks -- a simple, California-style chowder with a light broth and delicate flavor, enriched with sweet, buttery leeks. With options for a dairy-free chowder and a fully pescetarian chowder.
– Emily Stoffel, The Pig & Quill
There are a few different camps when it comes to chowder styles. There are the New Englanders, who prefer it rich and creamy. The thicker, they’ll tell you, the better. And the Manhattan crew, whose chowder is more akin to a minestrone hijacked by clams. (Not at all a bad thing, let’s be clear.) And then there’s me. I grew up eating eating my dad’s oyster stew, which is a chowder in everything but name. Briny and brothy and most definitely creamy but decidedly lighter than the stuff of bread bowl legend. It’s the make after which all my chowders have been modeled -- because, as an adult, of course you have things like a repertoire of chowders -- and this Creamy Halibut Chowder with Caramelized Leeks is no exception.
If you’re a meat eater, I highly recommend kicking this recipe off with a bit of bacon (though there’s a meatless alternative in the recipe notes). A mere four ounces provides just enough silky drippings to saute the veggies for the base of your soup, which is fortified with even more classic chowder flavor in the form of onion, celery, carrots and thyme. Yukon gold potatoes add heft without being overly starchy. And then there’s the halibut. Tender but sturdy and not at all fishy, it makes for a chowder that’s buttery and mild. The perfect pairing for Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay for which this recipe was made.
But should I take the time to caramelize those titular leeks? you may be asking. And to that, my resounding answer is you must! (Also, I will never not giggle at the word titular. Perhaps I’m not the adult I claimed to be.) They’ll cook in the same amount of time the chowder comes together, and the depth of flavor they contribute to the broth is unparalleled -- particularly if you’re opting for either the dairy- or bacon-free options offered. Deeply savory, nutty and buttery, these little leeks are a Chardonnay’s dream.
So there you have it. A chowder done in the style of, well, California, I suppose. Or maybe the West Coast, at the very least. Heavy on the seasonal produce, light on the palate. Resoundingly flavorful and simple as can be. Not a bad camp to be in, if you happen to be chowder. And not a bad chowder to have in your repertoire, if you happen to be an adult. Cheers!
Creamy Halibut Chowder with Caramelized Leeks
Cook time: ~35 mins
Note: We made this recipe several times -- with dairy, without dairy, with bacon, without bacon -- and every iteration received rave reviews.
Dairy-Free Chowder Modification: Replace the milk and half and half with 2 cups homemade unsweetened cashew milk. Blend 1½ cups of raw cashews (soaked overnight or quick-soaked in almost boiling water for at least an hour and drained) with 3½ cups of fresh water until completely smooth, about 1 min. No need to strain. (Reserve remaining cashew milk for another use.) Replace all instances of butter (including the butter in the leeks) with a vegan butter alternative.
Pescetarian Chowder Modification: Omit the bacon and instead saute the veggies in 1 T avocado oil or other light, high-heat resistant oil. Choose veggie stock instead of chicken stock.
- 4 oz bacon, diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 small carrots, diced
- 3 ribs celery, diced
- 3/4 tsp sea salt
- pinch white pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 3/4 lb yukon gold potatoes, chopped into about 1/2” pieces
- 4 cups chicken or veggie stock
- 12 oz halibut, cut into approx 1” pieces
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 T salted butter
- caramelized leeks (recipe below)
- fresh parsley, for serving
Begin caramelizing leeks according to directions, below. While leeks cook, prepare chowder.
Heat a large, heavy bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over a medium flame. Add bacon and cook until browned and crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; set aside for later. Keep drippings in pan.
To same pan with drippings, add onion, carrots, celery, salt, white pepper and thyme and sauté until soft but not browned, 5-7 mins.
Add potatoes and stock and bring to a bubble.
Add halibut, cover pot, reduce flame to low and simmer for 8-10 mins, or until potatoes are tender.
Remove lid and stir through milk, half and half and butter. Stir to heat through.
Place a spoonful of caramelized leeks in the bottom of each serving bowl. Spoon chowder over leeks. Top with reserved crisped bacon + fresh parsley. Pour a glass of Cambria Wines Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay and enjoy!
- 1 large leek
- 4 T butter
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
Trim off tough dark green ends of leek. Cut leek in half lengthwise and thinly slice. Add sliced leeks to a large bowl of water (or salad spinner) and rinse thoroughly to remove any silty debris. Drain thoroughly and lightly pat dry with paper towels (or spin dry).
Transfer leeks to a food processor and pulse until minced finely.
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pan set over a medium flame. Add leeks and salt and stir to coat. Pat leeks into an even layer and allow to cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up any brown bits, for about 20 mins, or until reduced by about two-thirds and deeply caramelized in places. Set aside until ready to use.