I am on an Irish seafood chowder mission: where is the best seafood chowder in Ireland? Of course, this is not a comprehensive guide to Irish seafood chowder but simply a summary of what I have been tasting so far.
Seafood Chowder at The Harbour Bar, Rush
My first introduction to Irish seafood chowder was at The Harbour Bar, and it wasn’t even a traditional seafood chowder because it had tomato in it.
The consistency was quite creamy but probably less so than your average chowder, with the tomato adding some lightness and flavour, and some bits of carrots, which I wasn’t overly keen on. The main reason is that salmon and carrot look similar in a soup, and getting a spoonful of carrot when you expect salmon is disappointing. Having said that, my bowl was bursting with fresh fish and had some mussels in their shells, too. Of all the chowders I tasted later on, this was the only one with actual shellfish. The soup came with the most delicious wheaten bread, which was unbelievably good and moorish. The bread was so irresistible I almost preferred it to the chowder.
Seafood Chowder at Aqua Restaurant, Howth
A traditional seafood chowder, very creamy with chunky pieces of cod, haddock and salmon, and sprinkled with chopped dill, which added a pleasant aromatic note. In my opinion, some chunky cubes of carrot distracted from the overall flavour, although the chowder was, indeed, delicious.
Fancy trying seafood chowder from Aqua Restaurant at home, minus the view? Here’s the original recipe directly from restaurant’s website. According to the ingredients list, there are mussels in this dish, however at the restaurant they weren’t there, or at least not in my bowl.
According to Donal Skehan, Howth seafood chowder is enriched with pancetta, thyme, bay leaves and smoked salmon for garnish.
Seafood Chowder at Fish Shack, Malahide
This place may be more for casual dining but there was nothing casual about this seafood chowder. It was cooked beautifully and had plenty of chopped celery (and not one carrot in sight), which I prefer, flavour-wise. The chowder had a good amount of fish and the flavours were well balanced. It packed a punch being so thick and creamy, and it could have been a meal in itself. It came with some sourdough bread.
Of all the chowders I have tasted, this was the cheapest and most delicious, so from my very limited experience it was the overall winner.
Homemade Seafood Chowder Mission: Challenge Accepted
After tasting different types of seafood chowder and finding out what I enjoyed most from each, I decided to try cooking seafood chowder from scratch. I started my research looking at the most popular recipes online and combined them together to create a simplified, cheap and cheerful version. Most recipes require fish stock but I preferred to use a vegetable stock cube because it’s more practical.
250 gr fresh fish mix (pieces of salmon, cod, haddock, coley from the supermarket)
1 lt vegetable stock (1 stock cube with 1 lt water)
2 stalks of celery cut into 2 cm pieces
1 medium carrot cut into 1 cm pieces
4 baby potatoes cut into small cubes
10 sprigs of fresh dill, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced thinly
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
50 gr unsalted butter
50 gr plain flour
50 ml white wine
250 ml crème fraiche
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large pot on a low heat, then add the oils. Add the carrot, celery, onion and leek and cook for at least 10 minutes to soften the vegetables but without getting colour. Add the potatoes and cook slowly for five minutes. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until it absorbs all the fat but without turning brown. Add the wine and let it evaporate, then add the vegetable stock. Cook for another 10 minutes on a medium heat to soften all the vegetables.
Add all the fish (if you want to use prawns, add them during the last two minutes of cooking) and let it poach gently for not more than five minutes. Turn the heat off.
In a bowl, pour the crème fraiche and then add a ladle of the hot liquid from the soup from the large pot to loosen the cream, then add it to the seafood chowder. Mix gently to incorporate all the cream in the soup taking care not to break the pieces of fish.
Taste to check for seasoning and add salt and freshly ground pepper as required.
Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with fresh chopped dill. As an accompaniment, I chose brown Irish soda bread and butter.