Claudia’s family traditionally served clam chowder every Christmas Eve, alongside an amazing Caesar salad made by her sister Chris, and a loaf of crunchy sourdough bread. This meal managed to weather the storms of generations as they came and went. Before acquiring an appreciation for the taste and texture of clams, younger ones were simply taught to set them aside. By the time they'd grown, left home, and returned at Christmas time, they’d come to appreciate the taste.
After meeting and marrying the king of seafood, Claudia discovered the beauty of high-quality salmon meat, and liked it so much that she began substituting it for the clams in the family chowder recipe. This is now the traditional meal served in the Fishgirl household on Christmas Eve. We love that this chowder can be made the morning of our get-together, or even a day in advance. There's no need to worry about the texture of the clams, and the flavor is even better! The key is not to be afraid of making substitutions. You can’t go wrong when the first ingredient is the best!
Serves 6 (bowl, main course), or 10-12 (cup, first-course)
1 pound wild salmon meat
1 pound spicy ground sausage (or pepper bacon, chopped)
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4-6 celery stalks and leafy ends, finely chopped
2-3 carrots, finely chopped
1/8 cup flour (or flour substitute, for thickener)
4 cups whole milk
3 cups half and half
8 ounces bottled clam juice
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
4 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1-2 teaspoons ground thyme)
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
3 1/2 cups red potatoes (skin on), finely diced into 1/4” cubes
1 cup baby kale, finely chopped (optional, but pretty, and a good way to add in some extra vitamins for your loved ones!)
1 cup frozen white corn (optional)
In a large, nonstick pan, lightly sauté the salmon meat, and set aside in a bowl. In the same pan, sauté the ground sausage or bacon. Drain the fat and set the meat aside in another bowl.
In the same pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add onion, celery, and carrots, and sauté until no longer crunchy, but still firm to the touch. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and mix with the vegetables until melted. Add flour and stir until combined, making sure no clumps remain. Add milk on medium heat, and stir until milk comes to a near boil.
Transfer mixture to a large saucepan. Add half and half, clam juice, parsley, thyme, pepper, potatoes, and kale (if using). On medium heat, bring to a near boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and stir occasionally for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are firm, but not soft (they’ll continue to cook as you serve the chowder). If using corn, add during the last five minutes of cooking and stir to combine.
Add cooked salmon meat and the sausage or bacon. Salt to taste and serve.