Alaska Salmon Seafood Chowder with Fennel Sheefish Stock (and a Brief History of the Tomato)

Salmon & seafood tomato chowder_n

Pink salmon and sweet shrimp from the cold, clean seas of Alaska along with a terrific fish stock are key ingredients in this hearty, tomato-based seafood chowder. Made from a little of this, a little of that, and a lot of whatever the catch-of-the-day may have been, in many kitchens and galleys no two chowders are exactly the same. This one was especially tasty, and so we’ve provided the recipe, below.

Native to the Americas, tomatoes didn’t find their way to Europe until Spanish explorers took the fruit back in the late 1400’s or early 1500’s. Even after tomatoes found their way to Britain, leading horticulturalists there believed them to be poisonous. And so this versatile, luscious fruit was not generally consumed in Britain or her American colonies until the mid 1800’s.

It was in the 1800’s that Portuguese immigrants introduced tomato-based seafood chowders such as Manhattan clam chowder to New York and other American cities. Among the endless variations of this soup is the national dish of Bermuda: Bermuda fish chowder is built around a sumptuous combination of fish, tomato purée, onions, a healthy dollop of dark rum and sherry pepper sauce. 

See also: Manhattan-style Razor Clam Chowder

New England-style Alaska Clam Chowder

Alaska Salmon Seafood Chowder 

Ingredients: (makes about

  • 4 cups fish stock (see recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 pounds salmon, cut into 1/2″ or 3/4″ cubes (skin removed or not, chef’s choice)
  • 4 potatoes, diced into cubes smaller than the salmon cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped semi-coarse
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped into discs
  • 3/4 cup celery, chopped coarse
  • 3/4 lb. shrimp, peeled and veins removed. Leave whole or cut to smaller pieces, depending on size of shrimp.
  • 3/4 lb. shellfish such as razor clams, other types of clams or oysters. Reserve juice to add to fish stock. (We used equal portions of clams and oysters)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tbsp oregano (dry)
  • ground pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • smoked sea salt (to taste)
  • 1 lb. diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, chopped large (or use 1/2 cup frozen)
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped into thin slivers
  • 1/4 cup good sherry or white wine (optional)


  1. In a large kettle: Add fish stock, clam or oyster juice, bay leaf, oregano, ground pepper and tomato paste. Stir till paste is thoroughly mixed in.
  2. Add potatoes and tomatoes, ensuring that there is sufficient liquid to cover them. Add additional water, as necessary.
  3. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Continue cooking just until potatoes are tender.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large skillet: Add enough olive oil to cover skillet bottom. Add onions and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add carrots and celery and continue stirring for about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and continue cooking and stirring for 1 more minute – about 5 minutes total. Onions should be just turning translucent. Place in a bowl to prevent over-cooking and set aside.
  5. When the potatoes have just become tender, add sautéed onion mixture to soup. Add sherry or wine, if desired. Return soup to a simmer.
  6. Add salmon, shrimp and shellfish. At this point, we remove the pot from heat – the ambient temperature will cook the seafood sufficiently. (Seafood should be fresh or fresh-frozen.)
  7. Serve piping hot. This soup needs nothing, but a little freshly grated parmesan cheese, a few pieces of nori (dried seaweed), crackers or croutons make nice condiments.

Fennel Fish Stock


  • 1 1/2 lbs. fish bones & head, cleaned, scaled, gills removed (preferably a white-meated fish such as striped bass, sea bass, snapper, porgy, rock fish, halibut, walleye, etc. We used sheefish.) It is important that the fish is fresh.
  • fennel – leaves and stalks from 2 stalks, chopped coarse (or use 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds or powdered fennel)
  • 1/2 tbsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 whole pepper corns
  • 1 tsp smoked sea salt
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup coarsely celery
  • 1 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup good sherry or white wine (optional)
  • water


  1. Cut up fish bones and split fish head butterfly style so that everything can be lain as flat as possible in the bottom of a large kettle. 
  2. Place all other ingredients on top of the fish bones and head, arranging so that ingredients are fairly compact so that as little water as possible is needed to cover them.
  3. Cover ingredients with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  4. As soon as pot is boiling, reduce heat to simmer. You may need to use a flame shield if stock is boiling too vigorously.
  5. Gently simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and allow to stand an additional 15 minutes.
  7. Strain through a wire mesh colander and set stock aside.
  8. Stock can be placed into containers and frozen for later used, or used immediately.

4 thoughts on “Alaska Salmon Seafood Chowder with Fennel Sheefish Stock (and a Brief History of the Tomato)

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