This chowder is dairy-free, but you’d never guess!
Many New Englanders and Canadians grew up with the classic Scottish Finnan Haddie, a delicately smoked haddock with a funny name. It was used in chowders and fish cakes when I was a kid, and was often served frequently during Lent. I loved the chowder the best. While Finnan Haddie refers to the actual smoked haddock, which originated in Findon, Scotland, I’m told (although there appears to be a little disagreement over the origins) the name was also commonly used around here for the chowder as well. At that time, the product was cheap, widely available, and a pound could stretch to feed the whole family.
A quick and easy chowder
The classic “Finnan Haddie” in our house when I was a kid was a simple chowder made by lightly simmering the smoked fish in water for 10 minutes or so, draining it (translation, throwing away a lot of flavor), skinning it and removing any bones. Then, an onion was sautéed, probably in salt pork, potatoes, milk, and a bay leaf added, cooked until tender, then the chunked fish returned to the pot. It was easy to make, and delicious, the Finnan Haddie having a distinctive, mild smoke flavor.
Thicken as you like
My Aunt Mary thickened her milk sauce with a roux, my mom did not. Instead, she added some potato flakes for a little extra body, so I’ve used her technique here since I’m not a fan of any chowder thickened with a thick flour roux. Look for a brand that has nothing but potatoes such as Bob’s Red Mill. Some brands are loaded with food additives, which are totally unnecessary. I also use the potato flakes as a coating on fried fish, such a lovely but subtle fried potato flavor!
My aunt also cooked hers without potatoes and served it almost gravy style over boiled potatoes. My mom included the potatoes with the milk making it more of a chowder.
Let’s save some flavor
I’ve poached my Finnan Haddie directly in the milk to retain every bit of flavor possible, but I did rinse it well beforehand to remove any excess salt. To deviate even more from mom’s technique, I added both parsley and green peas to give the chowder a little more visual interest. White potatoes. White sauce. White fish. Needed a little color.
To top it all off, I saved the potato peelings to make a crunchy, potato chip-like topping to add some texture.
Dairy or plant based, your choice
I’ve made this with non-dairy ingredients so all in my family can enjoy, but you can use whatever milk or cream you like. Mom would have used canned evaporated milk, which was quite delicious in this dish. Many recipes call for cream or light cream, but I don’t think this is necessary at all with the addition of the potato flakes. If you use cream, you probably won’t need the flakes.
Smoked haddock used to be everywhere, in even the smallest markets. It is not as easily found today, but you might see it around Lent at the larger fish markets in New England. If you don’t see it, ask your fish monger. I got mine from Stonington Seafood in Maine, and it was the best I’ve ever had. It is available mail order, pricey when you add in shipping, but worth it, and it freezes nicely.
The owner, Richard Penfold, learned hands-on about commercial fishing and to perfect smoking fish from master craftsmen on the Shetland Islands, more than a decade of work and research. He is a leading expert on the art today, and it shows in the quality of his product. His haddock is line caught on small boats, responsibly harvested, even better. The website has lots of other recipes for using the Finnan Haddie as well.
Smoke it yourself!
Of course, if you own a smoker, you can give it a try yourself in your own back yard! If you can’t obtain it anywhere, you can substitute smoked trout (would that be Finnan Troutie?), or any other favorite smoked fish. It won’t taste the same, as every smoked fish has a different flavor, but it will be delicious still. A bonus – if there is any left over, it will taste even better the next day.
Do you remember a similar dish?
Finnan Haddie Chowder with Potato Peel Topping
- 1 quart soy milk or dairy milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 star anise
- 1 lb. Finnan Haddie, rinsed
- 2 leeks, white and light green part, sliced, divided
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1 ½ lb. yellow potatoes, diced
- 2 tbsp. dehydrated flaked potato (Bob’s Red Mill)
- 1 cup thawed frozen peas
- 2 packed tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
- Vegan or dairy butter, freshly ground black pepper
Prep the veggies: Peel the potatoes, dice them, and set the peelings aside, blotting them really dry. These crispy delights will become your topping. Slice the leeks and place a handful in a saucepan, about a third of them. Chop the stems off the parsley and throw those in too, along with the bay leaves and star anise. Add the milk and bring all to a very gentle simmer for 10 minutes so everyone can get acquainted. Meanwhile, rinse the Finnan Haddie to remove any excess salt.
Add the Finnan Haddie to the gently simmering milk and set your timer for four minutes. This will overcook easily, so watch the time carefully. Remove from heat, and let the fish sit in its bath for another two minutes, then carefully remove it, cover, and set aside to cool. Strain the milk into a bowl or glass measuring cup, and set that aside as well.
In your soup pot, add a tablespoon of butter and one of olive oil, and toss in the remaining leeks. Sauté until they are soft, no color, and add the wine and continue to cook until the wine has evaporated. Toss in the potatoes and the reserved milk. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
While the potatoes cook, heat a half-inch of neutral oil in a large skillet over medium high and toss in the potato peelings. Let cook turning a couple of times, until browned and crisp. Drain on toweling, salt lightly.
Once the potatoes are cooked, add the peas, parsley, and the reserved haddock. Remove from heat, and let everything get warmed and flavorful together.
Place in a tureen, and add a bit of butter to the top and a few more sprigs of parsley. Top each bowl with some of the crispy potato skins.
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