Pacific Northwest seafood stews and chowders

With Oregon’s commercial crab season finally in full swing, it’s a natural assumption that Dungeness crab will be on plenty of menus in the weeks and months ahead. But there are other seafood offerings to consider this time of year, and plenty of delicious ways to incorporate them into your diet.

Chowders and stews might be just the ticket. Or perhaps you have some good recipes on hand. But in the last few years, the culinary world has made a welcome return to basics, and in the process expanded on the stew and chowder concept.

You'll find recipes calling for a wider selection of vegetables, from leeks to chiles, along with a demand for the freshest and finest seafood ingredients.

The most important consideration when assembling a superb fish stew is freshness. Fresh doesn't have to mean never frozen. But fresh does mean carefully and quickly handled between the time it is caught and it enters your kitchen. At the seafood counter, scrutinize the product before purchase. Ask to smell it, and if there's even the slightest hint of fishiness, move on.

That applies to local clams. It’s great if you are willing to work with the whole clam, shell and all. It’s the best way to be assured of freshness. But a delicious alternative is as close as a well-stocked fish counter, where either frozen or just-thawed might be available by the pound. It’s a step down from fresh, local, butter or steamer clams, but far and above a better option than clams in a can.

When you serve these special stews, play off their robustness. Keep the side-offerings simple and to the point: A crusty loaf of locally made French bread, a well turned green salad with homemade dressing, and don’t forget to lay in some nice regional craft brews and a bottle of Oregon pinot noir, syrah or other lovely regional red).


Astoria Clam Chowder

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

4 pounds fresh clams in the shells (or 3 cups of clam meat, fresh or frozen)

1 cup chopped celery

1 medium onion, chopped

1 sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup butter

2 strips bacon, diced

1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)

1/2 cup flour

4 cups milk

2 cups red potatoes, diced

2 cups clam broth (see note below)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Steam the clams in 2 cups of water. When they open, remove the meat from the shells and chop. Set aside. Reserve the broth by straining to remove any sand, then set aside.

In a large pot, over medium-high heat, saute the celery, onions and bell pepper in the butter until soft. Meanwhile, in another skillet, fry the bacon and add it with the drippings to the vegetables. Add the thyme.

Over medium to medium-high heat, sprinkle the flour over the sauteed vegetables and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Whisk in the milk, potatoes, clam broth, salt and pepper, stirring constantly to prevent lumping, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Return the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Add the cooked clams and gently reheat. Thin with milk if desired, and adjust seasonings.

NOTE ON CLAM BROTH: if using fresh, in-shell clams, then use the broth created from that, as directed in the recipe. If using clam meat (you might be able to obtain it at a well stocked supermarket as either fresh or frozen) then use a commercially prepared clam broth (I use “Better Than Bouillon” clam base, which you will find in most supermarkets).


Pacific Northwest Seafood Stew

Makes 4 servings.

Soup Base:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

1/2 cup thinly sliced green bell pepper

1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel bulb

1-1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest

1/2 cup dry white wine, such as pinot gris

2 cups clam juice

3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes (or diced canned tomatoes with juice)

1 teaspoon salt

Dash of Tabasco

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

To finish the stew:

3 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 pound steamer clams in shell

1/2 pound mussels in shell, scrubbed and debearded

1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 8 shrimp)

1/4 pound sea scallops (halved), or bay scallops (whole)

1/2 pound mixture of skinless firm-fleshed fish fillets or steaks (consider salmon, cod or halibut), cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks

4 small, cooked red potatoes, halved

1/4 cup pernod (an anise flavored liqueur), optional

Fresh fennel fronds for garnish (optional; but they play off the pernod)

To prepare the seafood stew base: Pour the olive oil into a large stew pot or Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, peppers, mushrooms, fennel and orange zest. Saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often, or until the onion is translucent.

Add the wine, clam juice, tomatoes and seasonings. Increase the heat to high, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, adjust seasonings, and if not using immediately, cool and refrigerate until needed, up to several days, or freeze up to 6 months.

To prepare the stew: Pour the 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and fish. Saute for 30 seconds. Add the cooked potatoes and pernod (if using) and cook for 30 seconds more, then add the seafood stew base. Cover and continue cooking just until the clams and mussels open (remove and discard any of the shell fish that do not open). Immediately remove from the heat and divide the fish and shellfish among 4 individual soup bowls. Ladle in the broth and vegetables.

Garnish with fennel fronds if desired. Serve immediately with warm French bread for dipping.

— Recipe adapted from “Pacific Northwest - The Beautiful Cookbook,” edited by Cathy Casey.


Seafood Chowder

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

6 cups clam juice

2 (14-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes in puree

4 red potatoes, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, chopped

1 small celeriac, peeled and diced

1 bulb fennel, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine (such as Pinot gris)

2 pounds fresh seafood, such as a mixture of bay scallops, crab meat, halibut, snapper, clams, cod, and/or shrimp

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, bring the fish stock, tomatoes and potatoes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celeriac, fennel, carrots and garlic, cover the pan, decrease the heat to medium-low, and cook 8 to 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the wine and reduce over high heat until 1/4 cup liquid remains, about 5 minutes. Return the tomato mixture to a medium-high burner and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable mixture and the seafood, reduce the heat to low, and simmer just until the fish is cooked, which will take 3 to 4 minutes. If using clams, be sure to remove any that did not open. Stir in the horseradish, ginger, lemon juice and zest, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with the parsley.

— Adapted from “Bistro Soups,” by Caprial Pence and Mark Dowers.


Curried Leek Chowder With Pacific Shrimp

Makes about 6 servings.

About 1-1/2 pounds leeks (white and pale green portions), cut into 1-inch chunks to measure 6 cups

6 cups homemade or canned broth (chicken, clam or vegetable)

1 cup peeled, cored and diced apples

1 cup diced yellow onions

1 cup diced potato (a red, white, or Yukon gold variety would be best)

1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced to measure about 3/4 cup (or use good-quality canned diced tomato)

1/2 cup diced carrot

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

1/2 pound Pacific shrimp

Combine the leeks, broth, apple, onion, potato, tomato, carrot, basil, curry powder, salt and pepper in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and leeks are tender.

Remove the soup from the heat and cool slightly, then using an immersion blender, food processor or electric blender, blend the mixture (if using food processor or electric blender, this may have to be done in batches) until almost smooth (leaving small chunks of potato, leek and carrot). May be prepared to this point up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.

When ready to serve, reheat gently then add shrimp and continue heating until the shrimp are heated through. Adjust seasonings until heated through. Makes about 6 servings.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at

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