Excerpted from Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas

Chock full of vegetables and seafood, soups and stews make a hearty meal. On a cold day, a hot bowl of scallop bisque or old-fashioned clam chowder needs only a good crusty bread or cornbread to round it out.

Restaurants and gourmets often serve soup as the first course of a large meal. But many of us consider these warm, tasteful bowls of goodness to be a light lunch or the main course at dinner. Seafood soups such as stews, chowders and bisques offer a variety of delicious meals. They can look elegant, too, as many recipes call for ingredients such as clams in the shell, soft or hard crabs or shrimp in the shell. Made ahead, these seafood hits make the perfect solution for entertaining large groups of family or friends. And soups can be especially healthful because all the nutrients are reserved in the liquid.

Lean, white, firm fish cook best in soups. Delicate, fatter fish break apart. Grouper and catfish are ideal. Medium firm fish such as snapper, flounder and spotted sea trout work equally as well. As in all seafood cookery, handle fish carefully. And always avoid overcooking, which causes dryness and toughness. Yes, this happens even though the fish or shellfish is being cooked in water.

Remember that you can always substitute species. Go to the market to buy fresh fish that is in season, not a particular species. And use your favorite seasonings. It’s often a good idea to follow a recipe the first time you make a dish, then modify it to your tastes the next time. Use the ingredients that you enjoy.

For more information on selecting fish and shellfish, go to or check the Mariner’s Menu blog at Here are just a few soup and chowder recipes from Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas. If you want North Carolina Sea Grant’s complete seafood resource book, check local stores, or call 919/515-9101 for ordering information.

She-Crab Soup

In top of double boiler, melt margarine. Blend in flour. Stirring constantly, add cream and milk, then Worcestershire, salt, lemon zest, mace and pepper. Add crab meat and cook slowly for 20 minutes. Do not allow to boil; cook just below the simmer temperature level. Remove from heat.

Crumble egg yolks and sprinkle in bottom of individual soup bowls. Stir sherry into soup. Pour into bowls, then sprinkle with paprika. Serves 6 to 8.

Scallop Bisque

In large saucepan, lightly saute mushrooms in 1 tablespoon margarine over medium heat. Remove mushrooms. Puree mushrooms and scallops in food processor.

Melt remaining margarine. Add pureed scallops and mushrooms, mustard, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Blend in flour. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly, and cook until thick. Place in soup bowls and sprinkle with paprika. Serves 6.

Down East Clam Chowder

In large saucepan, fry pork over medium heat until crisp. Remove pork and discard. Add clams, water, onion, salt and pepper to pan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook slowly until clams are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add potatoes and onion, and cook until potatoes are done, about 20 minutes. Add mashed potatoes and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Serves 10 to 12.

Oyster Soup

Strain oyster liquor into a measuring cup. Chop oysters coarsely. Heat liquor over medium heat, add chopped oysters and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove oysters and reserve. Add hot water to the reserved liquor to make 5 cups.

Melt margarine in large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour gradually, stirring constantly until smooth. Gradually add the hot liquid, whisking constantly, and cook until smooth. Add onion, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add reserved oysters and heat thoroughly. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10.

Fisherman’s Stew

Melt margarine in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender. Add tomatoes, water, basil, thyme, pepper, salt, squash and corn. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash and corn are done, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add fish and continue to cook until it flakes easily with a fork, about 10 minutes. Serves 10 to 12.

Spicy Seafood Gumbo

Remove any shell or cartilage from crab meat. Heat oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add flour and cook until the mixture, known as “roux,” is copper-colored, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Add onion, celery and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, Worcestershire, Tabasco, bay leaf, parsley, thyme, basil, oregano, pepper and salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add okra. Simmer 25 minutes. Add fish, shrimp and oysters. Simmer 5 minutes. Add crab meat and continue simmering until fish, shrimp and oysters are done, about 5 more minutes. Serve as soup or over rice, if desired. Serves 8 to 10.

Note: If you don’t want to make a roux, omit flour. Saute vegetables lightly in oil, then continue recipe. It will still be a great dish!

This article was published in the Winter 2009 issue of Coastwatch.

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