This salmon chowder recipe swaps the heavy cream-based soup for a lighter and brighter version that’s just as comforting and far more nourishing. Packed with fresh leeks, celery, chives and dill, this chowder highlights only the best of ingredients. Featuring flaky bites of salmon and sweet earthy parsnips, this one-pot dinner is sure to satisfy even the hungriest of eaters.
Table of contents
Healthy Flavor-Forward Salmon Chowder
We find most chowders are laden with heavy cream and butter. And although that’s certainly decadent and delicious, all you really gleam is the flavor of the fatty dairy while the delicate fish, vegetable and herb flavors get muddied and covered up. We love salmon around here and the last thing we want to do is cover up its flavor.
Instead of heavy cream and tons of butter, we use whole milk and an optional splash of half-and-half. It’s optional and just a splash for a reason. The chowder doesn’t need it, but a short quarter-cup adds a lovely savoriness.
For a fresh and flavor-forward chowder we employ a variety of vegetables that do much more than simply meet your daily veg quota. Instead of potatoes (which are classic) we opt for earthy parsnips. Then leeks add a lovely sweet onion flavor, and celery adds the can’t-miss crunch.
Olive oil keeps this light and healthy, but for a more decadent and savory soup use unsalted butter.
This chowder features leeks, celery and parsnips. We love the sweet earthiness that parsnips add to this chowder. If you aren’t a fan of parsnips, you can also use baby gold or Yukon gold potatoes.
Spices & herbs
Dried bay leaves, fresh garlic, fresh thyme (you can substitute with dried thyme if needed), crushed red pepper flakes, and kosher salt lay the groundwork of this chowder. Chives and dill are added at the end for a heavy dose of freshness.
Dry vermouth or white wine
Either work well here, use what you have or like! If you opt for wine, use a dry white such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinto Grigio.
If you can’t find seafood stock, you can also use 1:1 clam juice and water. Look for seafood stock in the broth area or find clam juice in a the canned fish aisle.
We prefer the flavor and color of wild-caught salmon in this chowder. If you opt for thicker fillets, the salmon will need to sit in the chowder a couple minutes longer until cooked through.
We find whole milk adds just enough body without covering up the delicate flavors of the salmon and leeks.
Cornstarch is important for thickening the soup. If cornstarch isn’t an option for you, try using arrowroot starch.
Just a splash (¼ cup) of half-and-half adds a nice creamy finish, this it totally optional but I find it makes for a more savory chowder.
The Best Type of Salmon for Chowder
We love the flavor and stunning color of wild-caught salmon in this chowder. If you can only find, or prefer farm-raised, you may need to let the salmon sit in the pot, covered, for one to two minutes longer as farm-raised tends to have thicker fillets.
It’s important to use skinless salmon in this chowder (if you don’t remove the skin there will be scales in the soup). In the case that you can only find skin-on salmon, ask your fishmonger or the seafood counter to remove the skin for you. If you end up needing to remove the skin yourself, use a very sharp knife and do your best to avoid cutting out too much of the salmon flesh.
When we can, we like to order a big shipment of salmon from Catch Sitka Seafood.
Test Kitchen Tips
Test Kitchen Tips
- Return the soup to a simmer after adding the milk and cornstarch, but make sure it doesn’t come to a boil or simmer too long. Once the soup is at a simmer, remove from heat and add the salmon. There’s no need for the soup to simmer longer.
- The salmon will continue to cook as it sits in the hot soup, which is why it’s important to follow the specified timings. If you want to make this ahead of time, follow the recipe instructions to just before adding the salmon. When ready to eat, reheat the soup to a simmer then add the salmon.
- Serve immediately. If you have leftovers, reheat soup over low heat just until it comes to a simmer.
Variations on This Salmon Chowder
- Add 1-inch pieces of asparagus to the pot with the salmon.
- Add frozen peas at the end with the herbs.
- Feel free to use halved baby gold potatoes instead of parsnips.
- Use carrots instead of parsnips.
- For more decadence, use half-and-half instead of milk.
- Make a salmon corn chowder by adding fresh corn kernels to the chowder with the milk and cornstarch.
Salmon Chowder with Leeks & Parsnips
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter
- 2 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch thick slices (white and light green parts only)
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ¼ cup vermouth or dry white wine, optional
- 4 cups seafood stock *
- ¾ –1 pound parsnips, cut into ½ inch pieces (about 3 large parsnips)
- 4 stalks celery cut into ¼-inch thick slices (2 cups)
- 1 pound skinless wild-caught salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ¼ cup half-and-half, optional
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- Halve leek lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices; transfer to a large bowl and cover with cold water. Shimmy leek slices around in water; let rest 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider (or hands) strain leeks from water, being careful not to kick up dirt at bottom of bowl. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and dab/rub to dry.
- Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks, bay leaves, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, and ¾ teaspoon salt; cook until leeks start to soften but not brown, about 6 minutes.
- Add vermouth (or wine) and cook until nearly evaporated. Stir in stock, parsnips, and celery; increase heat to high and bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, until parsnips are fork-tender, 10 minutes.
- Whisk together milk and cornstarch, add to pot and return soup to a simmer.
- Season salmon with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, add to soup, cover and remove from heat; let sit 3 minutes.
- Stir in dill and chives and season with salt and pepper to taste; serve immediately.
This recipe and article were originally published on April 1, 2021.
I enjoyed this comfort food chowder on a cold, winter day. Made it (almost) exactly as written. I didn’t have fresh herbs so used 1 T dried chives and 2 t dried dill instead, adding them along with the milk so they’d have more time to soften and flavors could blend. (Fresh herbs definitely preferable, as Ms. Grant indicates.) I found the prep time notably underestimated. Maybe Ms. Grant has a better sous chef, lol. Parsnips and leeks were a welcome alternative to the predictable carrots and potatoes. Well executed flavors. Would have also enjoyed tarragon and sherry as alternatives to the chives and white wine. An easy, tasty, and nutritious way to use salmon. Thanks for sharing the recipe!
Hi there, I’m happy to hear your enjoyed the recipe! I will take another look at the prep time listed. Thanks!