Chowder is a type of soup or stew often prepared with milk or cream and thickened with broken crackers, crushed ship biscuit, or a roux. Variations of chowder can be seafood or vegetable. Crackers such as oyster crackers or saltines may accompany chowders as a side item, and cracker pieces may be dropped atop the dish. New England clam chowder is typically made with chopped clams and diced potatoes, in a mixed cream and milk base, often with a small amount of butter. Other common chowders include seafood chowder, which includes fish, clams, and many other types of shellfish; corn chowder, which uses corn instead of clams; a wide variety of fish chowders; and potato chowder, which is often made with cheese. Fish chowder, corn chowder, and clam chowder are especially popular in the North American regions of New England and Atlantic Canada.
The origin of the term chowder is obscure. One possible source is the French word chaudron, the French word for cauldron, the type of cooking or heating stove on which the first chowders were probably cooked. Chodier was also a name for a cooking pot in the Creole language of the French Caribbean islands: Crab pas mache, li pas gras; li mache touop, et li tomber nans chodier ("if a crab don't walk, he don't get fat, if he walks too much, he falls into a cooking pot"). Note also the Portuguese, Brazilian, Galician and Basque fish and shellfish stew known as caldeirada which would appear to have a similar etymology. Another possible source of the word "chowder" could be the French dish called chaudrée (sometimes spelled chauderée), which is a type of thick fish soup from the coastal regions of Charente-Maritime and Vendée. Yet another etymology could be from Quebecois French, where chaudière means "bucket".
Although in the sixteenth century in Cornwall and Devon a dialect word "jowter" was used to describe hawkers, particularly fish-sellers, with later variants "chowder" and "chowter", this is not cited by the Oxford English Dictionary as a possible source. The earliest citation the OED gives for the word used in its current sense of a fish-based stew is American. Other usage which attests to its use in England in the middle of 18th century is in a novel by Tobias Smollett in which one of the characters states, "My head sings and simmers like a pot of chowder". A Manx sailor in his memoirs refers to a meal made aboard a British ship on a voyage through the Caribbean in 1786: "....we frequently served up a mess called chowder, consisting of a mixture of fresh fish, salt pork, pounded biscuit and onions; and which, when well seasoned and stewed, we found to be an excellent palatable dish."  Cookbooks of the period included recipes for "Chowder, a Sea Dish". In 1830 an English baked dish made with salmon and potato was called a chowder.
Chowder as it is known today originated as a shipboard dish, and was thickened with the use of hardtack. Chowder was brought to North America with immigrants from England and France and seafarers more than 250 years ago and became popular as a delicious dish, and is now a widely used dish as it is simple to prepare.
In 1890, in the magazine American Notes and Queries, it was said that the dish was of French origin. Among French settlers in Canada it was a custom to stew clams and fish laid in courses with bacon, sea biscuits, and other ingredients in a bucket called a "chaudière", and it thus came to be invented. Then the Native Americans adopted it as "chawder", which was then corrupted as "chowder" by the Yankees.
In the United States, early chowder making is traced to New England. It was a bowl of simmering chowder by the sea side that provided in its basic form "sustenance of body and mind – a marker of hearth and home, community, family and culture". It is a food which evolved along the coastal shoreline of New England as a "congerie" of simple things, very basic and cooked simply. It is a simple dish of salt and pepper, potatoes and onion, pork and fish, cream and hard crackers, and not a sophisticated dish of the elite. Its simplicity made it attractive and it became a regional dish of the New Englanders, and their favorite recipe was "chowder master". "Symbolically, functionally, mnemonically or dynamically" chowder has become a powerful means for New Englanders to define themselves as a community, a rich community with a deep past and value that distinguishes their region from all others. The dish has been made there for a long time and is imbibed into the community culture. Etta M. Madden and Martha L. Finch observe that chowder provides "visceral memories that provided feelings of familiarity, comfort and continuity".
A recipe formulated and published in 1894 by Charles Ranhofer, a famous chef of Delmonico's restaurant, was called "Chowder de Lucines" and had ingredients of pork, clams, potato (sliced to a seven sixteenths-inch size), onion, parsley, tomato, crackers garnished by thyme, salt and pepper. Others in the same family, totally different from the New England clam chowder, are: "Fulton Market style", introduced in 1904 and made from clams, tomatoes, allspice, cloves, red pepper, and Worcester sauce; a "Vegetable Clam Chowder" introduced in 1929 and made of clams, chopped onions, diced carrots, stewed tomatoes, and thyme; "Coney Island Clam Chowder";[clarification needed] "New York Clam Chowder";[clarification needed] and "Manhattan Clam Chowder", a late entry after 1930.
The Chowder Capital of the world is located in Albion, Illinois, United States.
Chowder is a soup with cream or milk mixed with ingredients such as potatoes, sweet corn, smoked haddock, clams and prawns, etc. Some cream-style chowders do not use cream, and are instead prepared using milk and a roux to thicken them. Some of the popular variations are clam chowder and potatoes; seafood chowder; spiced haddock chowder; Irish fish chowder with soda bread; crayfish chowder; clam chowder with cod; British seaside chowder with saffron; thick smoked-haddock chowder; Raymond Blanc's light shellfish chowder; New England-style clam chowder with crunchy thyme breadcrumbs; smoked haddock chowder with leeks and sweetcorn; clam, broad bean and salami chowder; and many more. Chowder can be a comfort food, especially during the winter months.
Considered a national dish of Bermuda, the primary ingredients in Bermuda fish chowder include fish, tomato, and onion that is seasoned with black rum and a Sherry pepper sauce. The dish is of British origin, and was brought to the New World by the colonists.
Clam chowder is prepared with clams, diced potato, onion, and celery. It may be prepared as a cream-style or broth-style soup. Several variations of clam chowder exist, including New England clam chowder, which is a cream-style soup; Manhattan clam chowder, a broth-style soup prepared using tomato, vegetables and clams; Rhode Island clam chowder, a simple broth-style soup; New Jersey clam chowder; Delaware clam chowder; Hatteras clam chowder; and Minorcan clam chowder. In Connecticut clam chowder, milk is used instead of cream. New England clam chowder is made in a diverse variety of styles.
Clam chowder may be prepared with fresh, steamed clams or canned clams. The "clam liquor" from steamed or canned clams may be retained for use in the soup, and fresh or bottled clam juice may be used. January 21 is the National New England Clam Chowder Day.
In the late 1800s clam chowder was introduced in New Zealand as an "American" dish and has become integral to New Zealand cuisine. A variant of New Zealand clam chowder is "pipi chowder", also known as "pipi soup" made with New Zealand surf clams. "Pipi" comes from the indigenous Maori name for the shellfish. Despite strong historical ties between New Zealand and Australia clam chowder is virtually unheard of in Australia and absent from Australian restaurant menus.
Bottled clam juice being used in preparation of clam chowder
Corn chowder is similar in consistency to New England clam chowder, with corn being used instead of clams. Additional vegetables that may be used in its preparation include potatoes, celery and onion. Some are prepared using bacon as an ingredient. Corn chowder may be prepared with fresh, frozen, or canned corn.
Corn chowder with crab
Fish chowder is prepared with fish such as salmon or cod, and is similar to clam chowder in ingredients and texture. Ingredients used in fish chowder may include potato, onion, celery, carrot, corn and bacon.
Southern Illinois Chowder, also referred to as "downtown chowder", is a thick stew or soup that is very different from the New England and Manhattan chowders. The main ingredients are beef, chicken, tomatoes, cabbage, lima beans, and green beans. Traditionally, squirrel meat was a common addition. Southern Illinois chowder is a hearty dish that has been described as being closer in style to burgoo and Brunswick stew than coastal chowders.
Seafood chowder is prepared with various types of seafood as a primary ingredient, and may be prepared as a broth- or cream-style chowder. It is a popular menu item in New Zealand using ready-prepared mixed seafood, called "seafood marinara," "marinara mix", or simply "marinara." Each of these terms are unique to New Zealand and Australia.
A cream-style seafood chowder at a restaurant, served with oyster crackers in the bowl at left
A cream-style seafood chowder prepared with scallops and corn
In North America, as people moved west, some homemade preparations of traditional chowder used canned or bottled clams when fresh clams were not available. In some places the ingredients were modified based upon other locally available foods such as salmon, corn and chicken.
Chowderhead definition, in use since c. 1835