Seattle-Style Smoked Salmon Chowder
A delicious Seattle-style smoked salmon chowder loaded with cubed potatoes, capers for zing, and cream cheese for creaminess! This tastes just like the stuff from Seattle Pikes Place Market and is perfect to serve with crusty bread.
All you need is a hunk of crispy, crusty baguette to soak it all up.
This is a rainy day, smooth jazz, Sunday-couldn’t-be-more-perfect kind of food. Every bite of this smoked salmon chowder is loaded with flaked salmon, tiny shrimp, briny capers, a hearty broth, tender cubed potatoes, and the coziest creamy base.
The best kind of chowder is thickened naturally with potatoes. So you won’t find any flour in this recipe. To me, it sometimes gives chowder a weird grainy texture. None of that here. Chowder that’s thickened naturally with the starch from the potatoes means that this recipe is gluten-free friendly!
After spending 10 days on our west coast trip and eating our hearts out in three different states, one of the most memorable things we ate till this day is the smoked salmon chowder at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
The thing about salmon chowder is that it gets you from the very first bite—the creaminess followed by the briny, yet rich soup base. Then, there’s smoky salmon and all sorts of delicious spices.
What is chowder?
A chowder is a homemade soup that has a creamy base and is often made with seafood, vegetables, and potatoes. You can make fish chowder, clam chowder, corn chowder, and so many other kinds. Chowder can be thickened with the natural starch of potatoes, a roux, or even crushed crackers. The most widely known is the New England clam chowder.
What do you need to make the best smoked salmon chowder recipe?
- Butter: The butter is the base of this chowder. We’ll use it for cooking our veggies in a large stock pot.
- Onions: You want to do a fine chop on the onions, so they just blend right into the soup base.
- Celery: Again, chop them finely so that they just melt into the chowder base, and the flavor runs through and through.
- Garlic: I’m using a good six cloves in this recipe as it helps provide lots of flavor! Feel free to use less if you aren’t a fan.
- Potatoes: I like to do a ½ inch dice on the potatoes so that I get a little bit in every bite. You can use Yukon Gold potatoes or even russets for this recipe. Russets, are the starchiest potato, so keep in mind that they will make the chowder thicker, and you may want to keep additional stock on hand to thin the chowder to your liking later.
- Seasonings: There’s a variety of seasonings that spices that we use in homemade chowder. We’ll start with the obvious salt and pepper. The most important one being a seafood seasoning, such as old bay. I also add crushed fennel. Seafood loves the licorice flavor of fennel and the lemony flavor or thyme both work so well in the chowder! There’s also a couple of bay leaves and some dried basil. You could also top your bowl with fresh dill or chives if you’d like. I usually leave those out and prefer it without any of the green stuff on top!
- Diced tomatoes: If you’re making this in the summer, you can certainly use roughly 12-14 ounces of fresh diced tomatoes, I usually have a can of diced tomatoes on hand and just went for that.
- Stock: Seafood, chicken, or even shrimp stock works here. We’ll boil the potatoes and everything else in the stock so use one that you like the flavor of.
- Tomato paste: The paste adds a nice deep tomatoey flavor to the chowder and also gives it a pretty blush color!
- Capers + brine: Capers and brine add a bit of zing to the chowder, which cut through the richness of the heavy cream and cream cheese.
- Heavy cream + cream cheese: Both are used to add a creamy richness to the chowder.
- Seafood: I use two types of protein in this chowder recipe. I use salad shrimp (or you can use larger cooked shrimp that you just diced up) along with diced smoked salmon in the recipe. I find it’s way more satisfying with the two different types of seafood.
How to make the most amazing smoked salmon chowder:
- Soften the veggies: Melt the butter in a large stockpot or dutch oven. Allow the onions and celery to soften; this will take about 6-8 minutes over medium heat. Then, we’ll add in the minced garlic and potatoes. Give it all a good stir. Crush the fennel between your fingers, or you can use a mortar and pestle. Add it into the soup along with bay leaves, dried basil, diced tomatoes, capers, brine, and stock. The two tablespoons of capers and a splash of caper brine provide a nice zing to the soup. The heavy cream we add later mellows the whole thing out. Let the soup come up to a rolling simmer, cover, and let cook for 8-15 minutes or until the potatoes have softened and cooked through.
- Make it creamy: When the potatoes have softened, stir in the tomato paste, cream cheese, and seafood seasoning. Allow the cream cheese to just melt right into the soup.
- Add the seafood: Then, add the heavy cream and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Allow the chowder to gently warm through until a light simmer develops. Then, stir in the shrimp and smoked salmon and let everything just heat through.
- Serve it: Serve the chowder immediately, or allow it to cool a bit and then cover and refrigerate for several hours. This allows the flavors to develop further and will thicken the chowder a bit more. Keep a little extra stock on hand in case you need it to bring the chowder back to your desired consistency when serving!
Tips for making the best smoked salmon chowder:
- If possible, make salmon chowder one day in advance. All the research I did prior to preparing this recipe lead me to believe that the best chowder experience is always the day after you make it. I gave it a try, and oh boy, were they right!
- Use less sodium seasoning. You’ll need a full 4 teaspoons so the low sodium stuff is a much safer option!
- Use shrimp lobster, fish, or seafood stock if possible. The seasonings in the chowder pair beautifully with these stocks. If you have the time, you can even make homemade shrimp stock! Usually, I save the shells off of a couple of pounds of shrimp and make homemade stock by simmering it with a few leaves of parsley, black peppercorn and a couple cloves smashed garlic. You can read all about it here.
- Don’t waste extra money on buying larger shrimp. Though larger chunks of shrimp add more of a bite to the chowder, I find salad shrimp are a bit more economical and work just as well. Smoked salmon is a pricy ingredient, so I suggest cutting back wherever you can when it doesn’t make a huge difference to the recipe!
- Trust that the natural starch in potatoes will thicken the chowder. If you’re really worried, make sure to use russet potatoes. There’s no need to make a roux from flour and butter here. Potatoes are a great natural source of carbohydrates and they work so well in thickening soups naturally.
Here’s some of those essential smoked salmon chowder ingredients:
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb. potatoes, diced (Yukon gold or russet)
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
- 2 ½ -3 ½ cups stock (fish, shrimp, or chicken)
- 2 tablespoons EACH: tomato paste AND capers + 1 tablespoon brine
- 4-ounce cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 4 teaspoons low sodium Old Bay seasoning
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 ounces shrimp (chopped or use salad shrimp)
- 8 ounces smoked salmon, roughly diced into small pieces
- SAUTE: Heat the butter in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery and cook, stirring, until translucent and softened about 6-8minutes. Add the garlic and the potatoes. Crush the fennel seeds between your fingers and add them in. Add the bay leaves, dried basil, diced tomatoes, 2 ½ cups of stock, capers, and brine. Let the soup gain a rolling simmer, cover, and let cook for 8-15 minutes or until the potatoes cook all the way through. The timing may vary as this depends on how small you dice your potatoes.
- CREAM CHEESE: When the potatoes are fork-tender, remove the lid, kick the heat up to medium and stir in the tomato paste, cream cheese, and old bay seasoning. Allow the cream cheese to melt into the soup.
- SIMMER: Add the heavy cream and reduce the heat to low, allow the chowder to gently warm through until a light simmer develops. Add the shrimp and smoked salmon and let everything just heat through.
- SERVE: the chowder immediately or as I recommend, chill the chowder for several hours before serving. This will allow the flavors to develop further and will help thicken the chowder further. Rewarm before serving. Use additional stock to thin the chowder to preference. Season with additional salt as desired.