Cooking for my family during a holiday visit to Seattle, I came up with this chowder as a light yet comforting weeknight dinner to give us a break from the rich holiday meals we had been eating. The broth skips the usual milk or cream and is instead thickened by pureeing cooked potatoes and aromatics into a creamy, flavorful base studded with chunks of mild white fish and soft vegetables. Warm, satisfying and not too heavy, this dairy-free soup is the perfect meal for a chilly January evening.
I have a confession: this soup was originally going to include a little dairy. My husband is a Massachusetts native and is very particular about his seafood chowders, so I felt that a completely dairy-free version wouldn't fly. But as I was cooking, I realized the half-and-half I had grabbed at the store was actually flavored with vanilla and there was no milk in the house.
I have a second confession: I was secretly happy about this mistake. I had already pureed the broth by that point and was pleased with how creamy yet clean it was, the flavor of the fresh-from-the-market fish not masked by heavy dairy. And when we all sat down to dinner -- steaming bowls of the fish chowder, simple roasted carrots and a ridiculously good loaf of olive bread from Macrina Bakery -- even my chowdah-loving husband said, "The lack of cream didn't even bother me!" Around here, that counts as a victory.
And if, like me, you find super-rich, dairy-filled soups too heavy in the first place, you might just like this version even more than the original.
Creamy Dairy-Free Fish Chowder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped, divided
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, divided
1/4 cup white wine
1 quart low-sodium chicken, fish or vegetable stock, divided
1 pound lean, firm white fish (such as cod, rockfish or haddock), cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 - 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar, optional
Chopped celery leaves or parsley, for garnish
Warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic and half of the celery until the onion is soft and translucent. Meanwhile, peel and chop 3 of the potatoes (makes roughly 2 cups). Add the potatoes, white wine and 3 cups of the stock to the pot and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes, or until potatoes are very soft. Remove pot from heat. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender or in batches with a countertop blender. If needed, add some of the remaining 1 cup stock to thin soup to desired consistency. Taste and add a little salt if needed.
Return pot to stove and bring back to a simmer. Meanwhile, dice the carrot and remaining potato. Add the diced carrot, potato and remaining chopped celery to the soup and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the potato pieces are soft but not falling apart. Add the fish and simmer for 5 minutes more, or until fish is cooked through. Taste and add a little vinegar if soup needs some brightness. Garnish each serving with celery leaves or parsley.
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)