Thursday, 12 January 2012

Smoked Haddock and Clam Chowder

"...the idea of binging for eleven months of the year before turning into Gwyneth Paltrow for January seems an odd one. You may as well go for a colonic irrigation and get the whole thing over and done with in half an hour..."

It was New Year's Day, sitting in my friend's kitchen in Edinburgh with a traditional Hogmanay hangover, I opened the magazine section of one of the national Sunday papers and what did I find? The usual clap-trap, bulls**t, lazy journalism about a January 'detox'. Some oaf had written an article on how to treat your body to a blissful month of healthy food, yoga, meditation etc. etc.

Alongside this were recipes for the likes of acai, wheatgrass and pomegranate 'goddess smoothies', goji berry, hemp oil and alfalfa sprout salads, and instructions to drink five gallons of water a day to 'flush the toxins from your body'.

I'm perfectly at home with the idea of eating and drinking healthily, but the idea of binging for eleven months of the year before turning into Gwyneth Paltrow for January seems an odd one. You may as well go for a colonic irrigation and get the whole thing over and done with in half an hour.

While I'd scoff at the idea of a January detox, my thoughts did turn to another sort of change to my eating habits. Inspired by the recent River Cottage series where Hugh F-W decided to become vegetarian for the summer and also by a conversation I had over Christmas, I decided then and there to give up meat and turn to fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds, berries etc., for my sustenance during January. 

It seems to be something of a given that we eat too much meat, I recently read another article quoting a government advisor saying for environmental reasons we should return to only eating meat on 'feast days'. And there is no doubt that fish is very good for you and I don't cook or eat enough of it. So it seemed a clear cut case: good for the environment, good for me and good for you, as I'm going to share some delicious meat free recipes.

The first week consisted of endless rounds of Keralan vegetable curry after I had made enough to feed a vegetarian army. So by Saturday was ready for a change and something slightly more exciting. Happily, a fishmonger has made an appearance at my local market and I returned from a brief shopping expedition on Saturday afternoon with a slab of smoked haddock and a couple of handfuls of clams. What to make but a smoked haddock and clam chowder (or skink if you're Scottish). Perfect for this time of year - warm, creamy, delicious and not a goji berry in sight.

Smoked haddock and clam chowder

Serves 2-3

350g smoked haddock
2 handfuls (approx 200g) clams
1 leek, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1 pint mixed milk and water (approx 60/40 ratio)
Small handful of parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

  1. Start off by poaching the haddock. Put the water and milk in a saucepan, add the haddock and bring it up to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave the haddock in for a minute or two. By this time it will be cooked, so take it out of the liquid, leave to cool for a couple of minutes and then flake. Reserve the milk and water mixture.
  2. Meanwhile, melt a good knob of butter in a large saucepan, add the leek and onion, season well with salt and pepper and soften gently for 10 minutes over a low heat.
  3. Before adding the potatoes give them a good rinse in a colander or sieve under the cold tap. This will wash off the starch and stop the soup tasting all gluey (this is a Heston Blumenthal tip, so you don't have to take my word for it!).
  4. Add the potatoes to the leek and onion and cook them for a minute or two, then add the reserved milk and water, bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat.
  5. While the potatoes are cooking you can deal with the clams. Hopefully they should already have been cleaned, so give them another rinse, put them in a saucepan over a high heat, add a splash of water and leave them for two or three minutes, by which time they should have opened. 
  6. Once they have opened, take them off the heat immediately, otherwise they will overcook and go rubbery. Now take most of the clams out their shells, leaving a few in for decorative purposes.
  7. Here, you can add some of the clam cooking liquor to the potatoes, but you don't want the soup to be too watery, so go easy!
  8. By now the potatoes should be cooked and you will therefore be faced with a choice. Either leave the vegetables whole in the soup and add the clams, flaked haddock and parsley for a rustic, chunky chowder. Or for a slightly more refined version, you can grab a hand held blender and whizz it up to leave a creamy and smooth soup to which you add the fish and serve.
  9. I went for a compromise and half blitzed it, so there was still some texture and the soup wasn't completely smooth. Check the seasoning, before adding the parsley, haddock and clams and leave for a minute or so to warm through. You don't want to cook the fish any further, but make sure the soup is nice and hot.
  10. Serve up with some crusty bread and a glass of white wine (new world chardonnay?), using a touch more parsley and the reserved clams in their shells for a bit of decoration.
10 steps to chowder heaven!


  1. Trying this for supper tonight - Saturday! Will report on results. Using Scarborough Woof and ordinary haddock with scallops and some prawns for variety.

  2. Good stuff. Although Scarborough Woof sounds like something you'd catch on a night out!

  3. Scarborough Woof - catfish in fact, as you can tell from the name, and does extremely well in chowder. Also cheap.
    Your recipe made a good, creamy chowder. Scallops, prawns and some squid chucked in at the end with the wine (St Veran) in which they had been cooked. Potatoes forked lightly when soft - we don't muck around with blenders up here - produced a good, tasty mouthfull eaten with chunks of granary bread and lashings of butter. Dead easy to make. Thoroughly recommended.