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.
Lightened up flavor-forward salmon chowder
I find many modern 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, I 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 measure adds a nice savoriness. Don’t have it or don’t want to buy it? Just skip it!
For a fresh and flavor-forward chowder I employed a variety of vegetables that do much more than simply meet your daily veg quota. Instead of potatoes (which are classic) I opted for earthy parsnips. Then leeks add a lovely sweet onion flavor, and celery adds the can’t-miss crunch.
- Extra-virgin olive oil: olive oil keeps this light and healthy, but for a more decadent and savory soup use unsalted butter.
- Vegetables: this chowder features leeks, celery and parsnips. I 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, use half the amount listed), crushed red pepper flakes, and kosher salt lay the ground work of this chowder. Chives and dill are added at the end for a heavy dose of freshness.
- Vermouth or dry white wine: either work well here, and are optional.
- Seafood stock: if you can’t find seafood stock, you can also use 1:1 clam juice and water.
- Wild-caught salmon: I 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.
- Whole milk: I find whole milk adds just enough body without covering up the delicate flavors of the salmon and leeks.
- Cornstarch: important for thickening the soup. If cornstarch isn't an option for you, try using arrowroot starch.
- Half-and-half: 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.
What type of salmon to use:
I 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.
Tips for making salmon chowder:
- 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 and follow the remaining cooking instructions.
- Serve immediately. If you have leftovers, reheat soup over low heat until it comes to a simmer.
- 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.
If you give this salmon chowder recipe a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @zestfulkitchen on Instagram. I love hearing about and seeing your ZK creations!Print
A light and vibrant salmon chowder made with leeks, parsnips, fresh herbs and a splash of vermouth or wine. Serve on it's own or pair with your favorite dinner roll.
- 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
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt
- 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
- cracked black pepper
- 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.
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.
Seafood stock: seafood stock can be found in 32-ounce boxes or 14.5 ounce cans. If all you can find are the 14.5 ounce cans, use two cans + ½ cup water. If you can’t find seafood stock, substitute with 2 cups (two 8-ounce bottles) clam juice + 2 cups water. I don't recommend swapping the seafood stock for chicken stock as it isn't as flavorful.
Dairy-free: use unsweetened and unflavored nut or soy milk, or canned coconut milk instead of the whole dairy milk.
Vermouth / wine: either work great here. If you want to use something even more classic, use a splash of pernod instead. Start with 2 tablespoons.
- Serving Size: scant 2 cups
- Calories: 396
- Sugar: 10g
- Sodium: 872mg
- Fat: 20g
- Saturated Fat: 5g
- Carbohydrates: 22g
- Fiber: 4g
- Protein: 27g
- Cholesterol: 64mg
Keywords: salmon chowder, salmon soup, chowder, healthy chowder, seafood chowder, fish chowder