Why It Works
- Mashing the potatoes in the soup thickens the broth and creates a wonderfully rustic texture with a range of tender potatoey bits.
- The simplicity of this soup allows the complex flavor of the smoked fish to star. Finnan haddie can more than carry the show.
- A touch of cream enriches the soup just a bit, without making it too rich.
In Scotland, this smoky chowder is a popular comfort food, keeping bellies warm and filled through the chilly winter months. It relies on a smoked fish called finnan haddie, which is a type of smoked haddock. The real deal can be ordered online and is an incredibly delicious product that's worth trying. But, with some specialty gear, you can also cold-smoke your own fish at home, whether haddock or another white-fleshed fish like cod or halibut. Aside from that, the soup is almost too easy to make—just poach the fish, sauté some onions, and cook potatoes into it, mashing them at the end for a thick, rustic texture.
- 4 cups (950ml) whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound (450g) finnan haddie (Scottish smoked haddock), or homemade cold-smoked fish (see note)
- 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter
- 1 medium (8-ounce; 225g) yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 pound (450g) Yukon gold potatoes, peel on or off as desired, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- Finely minced chives, for garnish
In 3-quart saucepan, heat milk with bay leaf over medium heat until nearly simmering. Add fish and cook until just starting to flake. Using a slotted spoon, remove fish to paper towels to drain; set aside. Discard bay leaf. Transfer milk to heatproof mixing bowl or other container; set aside.
Wash saucepan and return to medium heat. Add butter and cook until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until nicely softened but not browned, about 6 minutes.
Return milk to saucepan and add potatoes. Return milk to bare simmer. Then cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes; stir and scrape saucepan occasionally to prevent milk from scorching.
Using a potato masher or large wooden spoon, crush potatoes in pot until partially mashed. You want a good range of potato bits, some so small they thicken the broth but also larger chunks.
Remove and discard any skin or bones from fish; then flake into the soup. Add cream. Season with salt and pepper, and, if desired, stir in pinch of cayenne. Serve, sprinkling chives on top of each bowl.
Real finnan haddie is an incredible ingredient and it's worth tracking down, but you can also cold-smoke any lean white-fleshed fish (like haddock, cod, or halibut) at home, if you have the appropriate equipment. To do it, make a brine by dissolving 60g (~2 oz.) salt and 30g (~1 oz.) sugar, along with 2 bay leaves and 15 whole black peppercorns, in 500ml (~17 fl. oz.) water over high heat. Remove from heat and add an additional 1500ml (~51 fl. oz.) cold water (you could also add 500g (~17 oz.) ice to chill the brine rapidly). Make sure brine has cooled fully; then add fish (skin on or off, as desired), and let soak, refrigerated, for 1 hour. Remove fish from brine, set on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature, uncovered, for 1 to 2 hours.
Transfer fish to refrigerator and leave, uncovered, for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours longer. Using a real cold-smoking rig, smoke fish following the smoker's instructions with cherry or other wood until deeply smoked, about 4 hours. Alternatively, put fish in a zipper-lock bag, and, using a Smoking Gun, inflate bag with smoke. Seal, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Add another blast of smoke to bag; then refrigerate again for 30 minutes. Repeat this process for a total of 5 or 6 smoking and resting cycles (or longer, if you want an even deeper smoke flavor). Then proceed with recipe as written.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The finished soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat gently before serving.