The first time I ate Bermuda fish chowder was when we came over here on an exploratory visit in March 2013, at the Royal Palms Hotel (the hotel just voted by TripAdvisor as the best in the Bermuda and best in Caribbean – though Bermuda isn’t actually a Caribbean island). It was a Sunday evening, quite late as our plane had been delayed, and officially they had finished serving food – but kindly they made us two large bowls of fish chowder, so far still the best I have tasted on the island. (As an aside, this degree of hospitality was shown throughout our stay and we used the hotel as our first base on island while we were finding a home – they will store your luggage, order taxis, advise on anything, offer laundry service and at 5:30 every evening open a bottle or two of wine for happy hour)
Anyhow, back to fish chowder. This is nothing like the clam chowder served in New England or the Irish seafood chowder with prawns, though I am sure they taste very nice, – expect more a thick dark red-brown spicy meal enhanced by a large dash of sherry peppers and rum. I suppose it is the fish version of Brown Windsor Soup, but that particular soup lost any popularity from being the staple starter offered by Fawlty Towers, the 70’s British sit-com with John Cleese as incompetent proprietor of a hotel where you’d only stay once.
Bermuda fish chowder is delicious!
First I will give you the recipe:
Outerbridge’s Bermuda Fish Chowder
Ingredients (makes lots – probably enough for 10)
4 Quarts water
1 ½ Pounds white fish fillets
Spices: thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, ground cloves
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons oil
3 Large onions, chopped
8 Stalks celery, chopped
1 Garlic clove, minced
2 Green peppers, chopped
1 Can (28 oz, 794g) whole tomatoes, chopped
1 Can (10 oz, 285g) beef consomme
1 Cup catsup (ketchup)
½ Cup chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 Teaspoons lemon juice
2 Pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
6 Carrots, diced
1 Jigger (2 ounces) Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
4 Tablespoons Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers Sauce
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1. In a large pot, put water, fish fillets, salt and spices. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and let simmer for 30 – 45 minutes.
2. In a frying pan, melt butter and oil and briefly sauté onions, celery, garlic and green peppers. Then add tomatoes and consommé and simmer covered for 30 minutes.
3. Transfer this mixture to the fish stock and add remaining ingredients. Simmer partially covered for 2 hours. Adjust seasoning.
Serve soup piping hot and pass around Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers Sauce and Gosling’s Black Seal rum
Gosling’s Rum Bermuda Fish Chowder
Ingredients ( makes enough for a large family)
4 qts water
2 lbs fish fillets (Rockfish, Sea Bass) or 5 lbs Grouper heads
1 tbs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
3 large Bermuda onions, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers
28 oz can of chopped tomatoes
1½ cup good chicken broth
1 cup catsup (ketchup)
½ cup parsley, chopped
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 lbs potatoes peeled, small dice
6 large carrots peeled, small dice
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
4 tbs sherry peppers
1. In a large pot bring the water to a boil and put in the fish fillets, salt and spices. Lower flame and simmer for 45 minutes.
2. In an another cauldron large enough to contain all of the ingredients melt the butter and oil together and sauté the onions and garlic until just golden. Add the celery and green peppers and sauté another few minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Strain the fish stock into the cauldron. Pick out the fish and add it to the pot as well, discard the spices. Add the remaining vegetables to the pot and simmer partially covered for two hours.
The soup should be thickened, but not thick and be a dark reddish-brown and very aromatic. At the end of the cooking time add the sherry peppers sauce and Black Seal Rum.
You will probably notice the two important ingredients : Sherry Peppers and Rum
Sherry peppers are pimentos marinated in sherry for several months. They appear to have originated from sailing ships who used them to mask the taste of dubious food and since nineteenth century Bermuda was a mix of maritime and agriculture it was a small step to start producing this on island. Outerbridge’s is, I believe, the only commercial producer on the island and possibly the only anywhere. Their website gives a detailed history and tells you there are 17 extra herbs and spices in the mix.
If you don’t want to pay $7 for a 5oz bottle then you could try making your own – I found one recipe using sherry, grated ginger and Scotch bonnet peppers that you marinate for 2 weeks, then add 1 cinnamon stick and 10 peppercorns for another 2 weeks before finally adding 25 cloves and 1 whole crushed nutmeg for the final 2 weeks. For me it seems easiest to buy the bottle. It can be used for other things, in bloody mary’s I am told.
The other local ingredient is Gosling’s rum. The Gosling family have been in Bermuda since 1806, so not as long as the Outerbridge family who arrived in 1620, shortly after the colony started. But long enough to establish a most profitable business in wines and liquors. Black Seal Rum gets its name from the black sealing wax (when I was a child I thought his was ceiling wax and wondered how candle wax got onto the ceiling in the first place) that they used to stopper the bottles. Incidentally, mix Black Seal Rum with ginger beer (also made by Goslings) and you have a Dark’n’Stormy – a very good rum cocktail, so my daughter informs me.
Obviously the other main ingredient is fish – wahoo is recommended but I don’t know how easy it is to get that in England if thats where you are (Update: it is available, from frozenfishdirect.co.uk but its not cheap). I watched a cookery demonstration and she recommended any meaty fish. One of the above recipes calls for grouper heads – not exactly something I have to hand. (extra note – the demonstrator cook’s advice was to add the bay leaves towards the end and fish them out before serving)
You will also see above they call for Bermuda onions – thats a whole other post so you will have to wait for the rundown on those.
I looked up the origin of the word chowder, expecting perhaps an Indian origin and was surprised to read that it probably comes from the French term chaudier for stewpot. The word cauldron is linked. The OED suggests caldaria, Latin for a place for warming things. Another site informed me that a chowder is differentiated from a bisque by potato rather than cream as it’s thickening agent.
The oldest documented chowder recipe seems to have been in 1751 from the Boston Evening Post, but I expect that was a New England clam chowder – Bermuda fish chowder never has clams or shellfish in it. In the nineteenth century recipes began to appear in cookery books:
- 1828 The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph
- 1832 The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Child
- 1841 The Good Housekeeper by Sarah Hale
Aren’t they brilliant names – reminds me of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook that my Mother gave me when I got married. Might have been used more if given to my husband.
You might be asking where you should go to get Bermuda fish chowder, but I have to say I have not tried all possible sources so it would be wrong of me to claim I know the answer. I am still enjoying researching this and to date have not had a bad experience anywhere. Most restaurants on the island will serve it, for around $8-$10. Do say yes when offered Sherry Peppers and Rum. Or of you plan on trying out the above recipes then please feel free to ask me round to taste the result, I will be honest!