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Creamy Italian Seafood Chowder is a very special soup made with fresh haddock, shrimp, scallops, clams, and crab meat, plus tender chunks of potatoes and tomatoes.
What is Creamy Italian Seafood Chowder?
If you are a seafood lover – this Creamy Italian Seafood Chowder is for you!
Sometimes called an Italian “white” seafood chowder – a delicious variety of seafood and vegetables are suspended in a cream-based broth that really allows the flavors of the seafood to shine through. (You can also make a “red” seafood chowder with a tomato-based broth.)
Some Italian families serve this seafood chowder on Christmas Eve for the traditional Feast of Seven Fishes, but we love it anytime of the year – especially with fresh-caught seafood in the summer.
Why you’ll love Creamy Italian Seafood Chowder
- It’s chock full of a variety of fresh seafood – and you can vary it depending on the catch of the day, or to suit your family’s tastes.
- This chowder is hearty and delicious, and it makes for a very satisfying meal.
- You can prepare it ahead of time (but be sure to read our tips below in the Frequently Asked Question to avoid overcooking the seafood if you make it ahead).
Key Ingredients & Substitutions
- Salt Pork and Bacon – These two ingredients are an easy way to add delicious flavor to any soup or chowder – the rendered fat is used to sauté vegetables, so you won’t need to add other fats. While we use both salt pork and bacon, you could easily just use all of one or the other – the salt pork adds a nice salty flavor, while the bacon adds a smokey taste.
- Seafood – Buy a total of four pounds of seafood. We made our chowder with fresh haddock, chopped fresh clams, shell-on shrimp (frozen shrimp is fine), fresh scallops, and crab meat. You can substitute any of these varieties of seafood, or use all of one or the other, just as long as the total weight equals four pounds.
- Clam juice – Look for bottled clam juice at the supermarket – sometimes sold near the seafood counter. Other times, you can find it near the soup aisle.
- Dairy – Heavy cream makes up the broth, along with the clam juice and a broth from the shrimp shells. Unsalted butter smooths things out and adds more flavor. You could lighten this soup up a bit with light cream or half and half – but it won’t be quite the same.
- Tomato – Buy canned whole and peeled San Marzano tomatoes. You’ll break up the tomato pieces into the soup and reduce the juices to create a serving sauce that garnishes each portion.
- Other Vegetables – Peeled and diced russet potatoes are the best for this seafood chowder, plus diced onion and celery, and minced garlic.
- Herbs and spices – You’ll use a variety of herbs and spices including bay leaves, fresh basil, fresh mint, dried oregano, kosher salt, black pepper, and fresh thyme.
- Olive Oil
- All-Purpose Flour
- Oyster Crackers – For serving, if desired
Special Supplies Needed
- Large Dutch oven, or heavy-bottomed soup pot
- Two medium saucepans
How do I make Creamy Italian Seafood Chowder?
- Separate tomatoes from their juice. Cut tomatoes into large pieces and set aside.
- Place tomato juice in a saucepan. Add olive oil, herbs, and spices. Reduce this mixture for an hour while you prepare the rest of the chowder.
- Peel the shrimp and place just the shells into a sauce pan with three cups of water. Simmer until one cup of liquid left. Discard shells and reserve liquid.
- Sauté salt pork and bacon in Dutch oven then add onions, celery and garlic along with half the potatoes. Cook until celery and onions are tender.
- Add butter and flour and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add clam juice, rest of potatoes, reserved shrimp broth, thyme, pepper and chopped clams and bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender.
- Add haddock, shrimp, scallops, and crab and cook just until the seafood is cooked. (Usually by the time the pot is heated back up, the seafood is done – avoid overcooking!)
- Add heavy cream, stir, and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
- Add pieces of the canned tomato.
- Serve with a dollop of the reduced tomato sauce on top and oyster crackers.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I make Italian Seafood Chowder ahead of time? Yes, but chill the chowder quickly after cooking to avoid overcooking. And, reheat to hot but not boiling.
- How do I store leftovers? Store covered and refrigerated for up to two days.
- How do I reheat leftovers? Heat slowly in a pan on the stove, stirring frequently, but do not boil.
- Can I freeze? We don’t recommend it – the potatoes will get mushy.
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Sauce to serve with finished portions
1 28-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced
4 large mint leaves, minced
6 large basil leaves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound shell on uncooked shrimp, (26–30 per pound)
3 ounces salt pork, diced small (follow this method)
3 ounces bacon, diced small
2 cups onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced small
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into bit sized cubes
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (more if you like thick chowder)
6 8-ounce bottles clam juice
12-ounce container chopped fresh clams
2 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound scallops (if using seas scallops, remove and discard muscle attached to scallop)
1 haddock filet, skin removed and cut into bite sized pieces (12–16 ounces)
1 can “Jumbo Lump” crab meat *Optional
2 cups heavy cream
- Pour the can of tomatoes into a medium saucepan. Pick out the whole tomatoes and cut in half or quarters and set aside. Any liquid on the cutting board, add to the sauce pan with the tomato liquid.
- Add the olive oil, garlic, mint, basil, oregano, salt sugar and pepper to the tomato liquid and bring to a slow simmer. Put a splatter screen over the top and let simmer on low for the entire time you are preparing the chowder. We reduced our sauce for an hour. Stir occasionally.
- Peel the shrimp and place the shells in a second sauce pan with three cups of water and bring to a simmer and reduce down to one cup of liquid, watching to make sure the liquid doesn’t foam up and spill over as it cooks. This should take 20-30 minutes to reduce to one cup. Discard shells and set liquid aside. Place peeled shrimp back in the refrigerator until later.
- Peel and cut the potatoes into bite sized cubes and hold in cold water until ready to cook.
- In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the salt pork and bacon and cook until crisp and golden, about ten minutes.
- Add onions, celery, garlic and half of the cut-up potatoes and cook until the onion and celery are tender. This step adds potato starch to the mixture and helps with thickening.
- Once the onions and celery are tender, add the butter and after it melts, stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook for about two minutes to cook out the raw flour smell.
- Add the reserve shrimp broth, the rest of the potatoes, all of the clam juice, chopped clams, thyme, bay leaves and black pepper.
- Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about ten minutes.
- Add the scallops, peeled shrimp, haddock and crab if using and heat the chowder to hot. The seafood should be fully cooked by the time the chowder is back up to temperature.
- Pick out and discard the bay leaves and stir in the cream and add in the cut-up tomatoes. Heat just until hot.
- Taste for salt if needed.
- To serve, ladle chowder in bowls and spoon reduced tomato sauce into the center of each serving. Serve with oyster crackers.
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*Crab meat is very expensive. Feel free to omit and replace with one pound of any of the other seafood choices such as more shrimp, haddock or scallops. Total seafood should be four pounds.