Chef Christian Hayes’s Fish Chowder Recipe

The Chopped champion pairs classic techniques with flavor-bomb ingredients to create his fish chowder.

Chef Christian Hayes's fish chowder with bacon
By Alexandra Hall
Styled and photographed by Derek Bissonnette
From our October 2022 issue
Chef Christian Hayes
Photo by Anthony Dibiase

A seventh-generation Mainer, chef Christian Hayes grew up on New England staples: Boiled dinners. Lobsters. And lots and lots of chowders. These days, in his kitchen at The Garrison, Yarmouth’s fine-dining spot in the Sparhawk Mill, he fuses those Maine ingredients and traditions with gutsy global flavors. His go-to fish chowder recipe does likewise — pairing classic techniques (like making a roux for thickening) with flavor-bomb ingredients (jowl bacon from friends’ farms) in the mix. If the latter’s not available, he recommends reaching for a double-smoked bacon to impart as much depth as possible. He also points out the cultural relativity of serving sizes. “This recipe could serve six people,” he adds. “But if you’re true Mainers, it’ll be a solid four.”  

Getting Cheeky

“If I have a chance to use smoked jowl, from the cheek of the pig, I always grab it,” says the one-time champion of the Food Network’s Chopped cooking show. “It’s the best meat on the hog. I let that fat really deepen the roux. It adds a whole layer of super rustic and primitive flavor.” As for where and when to enjoy those flavors most? “I always imagine the ideal setting for a rich and indulgent chowder being someplace shielded from the Maine winter,” Hayes says, “with plenty of wine or beer on hand. Rip some chunks of the baguette and swipe it through the bowl. There’s nothing like it.”

Cod and Monkfish Chowder with Smoked Jowl Bacon

Serves 4 to 6

“Chowder became a favorite of mine to make in the winter for the family, and I love the flexibility of being able to switch the main proteins out for anything. You could add pulled chicken and charred corn off the cob, chopped clams, or leftover lobster meat.”


4 cups chopped smoked jowl bacon or double-smoked bacon
all-purpose flour
extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup minced garlic
1 cup diced sweet onion
1 cup chopped leeks
1 cup diced fennel bulb
4 tablespoons fresh thyme, picked off the stem
⅔ cup vermouth or white wine
8 cups clam juice
6 cups heavy cream
4 cups quartered small Yukon potatoes (very small Yukons are labeled size C, creamer, or new potatoes)
1 pound monkfish, sliced into 1-by-3–inch pieces
2 pounds cod loin, sliced into 1-by-3–inch pieces
¼ cup chopped parsley
salt and coarsely cracked black pepper to taste


In a frying pan, cook the chopped bacon pieces over medium to medium-high heat until crispy. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel.

To the bacon fat remaining in the pan, slowly whisk in the flour, starting with one tablespoon and gradually adding more. Continue to add flour until it reaches a thick, peanut-butter-fudge-like consistency and color. Set aside. This is your roux, and it will be added to the chowder to thicken it.

Starting with around 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot, add the garlic, sweet onion, leek, and fennel. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over and stir. Cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes, sautéing the mixture while stirring fairly regularly, so there aren’t any dark or burnt alliums.

Add the thyme along with the vermouth or white wine and turn the heat up to medium-high. Let the wine reduce by about a third. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Add the clam juice and heavy cream and stir. Allow to heat through until it begins to slightly simmer. Then, add your chopped potatoes and let the broth return to a simmer. 

Whisk in the roux in small increments, moving the whisk quickly so the roux dissolves. Let the chowder simmer and add a little more roux. Over the course of 5 minutes or so, you will begin to see your chowder thicken. If you prefer a thicker chowder, add a little more roux. This process should be done before the potatoes soften so you don’t break them up. If you find your chowder is too thick, simply add a little cream or clam broth to your liking. 

When the potatoes are almost fork-tender, add the fish. After about 10 minutes, the fish should be soft and cooked all the way through. Stir in the cooked bacon and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

See More Maine Chowder Recipes