This potato mussel chowder recipe from Loka is so easy to make we may regret publishing it.
Mussel chowder is synonymous with Prince Edward Island on the East Coast of Canada. Dave moved there for seven years to learn more about cooking seafood. He competed and won many cooking competitions so I laugh that they only earned a silver medal. While this is a silver award winning mussel chowder recipe I can’t imagine how it would be better.
Many people think of the East coast as one homogenous region it couldn’t be more wrong. Yes it’s a tiny population. In fact Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia share one area code. But they do not share the same chowder recipe.
I still make my grandmother’s Nova Scotia chowder recipe but it doesn’t include mussels. This mussel chowder recipe is unique to Prince Edward Island – a small island where there are a significant number of locals who have never left.
Fish Soup vs Chowder
But chowder is different. Chowders almost always use milk or cream. Although I have no idea why the Manhattan clam chowder or Bermuda fish chowder are labeled chowder. Without cream it’s really a clam soup. I guess every rule needs its exceptions.
There are few dishes that I could call Canadian food but chowder is such a stamp in my childhood I would call it the dish of the Maritimes.
Chowder is serious on the East Coast. A restaurant has a very difficult time answering to locals if it’s not on the menu. Most cafes serve it and and there’s almost always an option for a cup vs a bowl. If you’re like my mother you’ll always choose the cup of chowder and 1/2 sandwich combo.
It is such a a staple growing up although I fear the tradition of making it at home is dying with our grandparents. It was one of the first things I learned to make in university, I simply needed to pick up “chowder mix” in the seafood section of our grocery store. Chowder mix is simply fish and seafood scraps but these scraps make it affordable. When I first moved to Toronto I searched far and wide for chowder mix but it does not exist here.
Origins of Mussel Chowder
No one seems to know where the term chowder came from. Wikipedia appears to have the most logical guess that evolved from the thick fish soup chaudrée (sometimes spelled chauderée), which is a type of thick fish soup from from the coast of France. This makes sense as the East coast was first settled by the French and many of our traditional dishes are French influenced.
In the Maritimes chowder is fish, seafood or both with potatoes, celery, carrot and onions. It’s really quite simple. I have never seen clams or corn in a chowder seems to be more a New England style chowder. I’m a traditionalist but the idea of corn in my chowder makes me shudder.
Although I grew up on chowder it was an everyday version, usually made with 2% milk. At Christmas my sister proclaimed at Christmas Dave ruined her forever. No chowder was as good as his.
The secret is a lot of butter, cream and pancetta.
At Loka we modified the recipe and do not use pancetta so that our pescatarian guests can order it. It’s still great but really the pancetta takes it to the next level. Remember bacon is magic.
This is such an easy dish for entertaining as you can make it in advance. Chef tip: if you’re going to reheat the chowder wait to add the cooked mussels. Otherwise they may overcook and lose firmness. Don’t forget chowder needs carbs. Serve buttermilk biscuits, great bread rolls or go retro diner style and give everyone a pack of saltine crackers.
If you’re serving wine a traditional chardonnay pairs well with the creaminess of chowder or you could balance it with a sauvignon blanc that has a mineral, grassy finish.
PEI Potato Mussel Chowder
I love this mussel chowder recipe because it’s simple and inexpensive but so decadent and filling. You will not walk away from a bowl of mussel chowder wishing you had more. If anything you’ll wish you had more room in your stomach.
My grandmother passed a few years ago but stamped in my memory is Friday chowder in bowls with mug handles on them and brightly coloured balloons. But what makes me smile the most is that my grandmother didn’t like recipes to change so even though this mussel chowder is incredible, I know she’d turn her nose up at it.