One of the least known of the Chowder subtypes (especially outside of its island home), Bermuda Fish Chowder is a tomato-based soup with several unique additions to its DNA.
The most unusual aspect of Bermuda fish chowder is its use of a very special local ingredient – Outerbridge sherry peppers sauce.
As noted on the Outerbridge website, their sherry pepper sauce is a Chef’s in America Award Foundation Gold Medal Winner and features 17 herbs and spices. The concept for sherry pepper sauce actually began centuries ago, when sailors began fortifying barrels of sherry with hot peppers during their long ocean voyages. This was then used to mask the less than appealing taste of rancid ship rations.
During the 19th Century, the British Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda was one of the largest maritime ports in the world. Royal Navy shipmen shared their unique sauce with the locals, who eagerly adopted and enhanced the recipe. FYI – sherry peppers sauce is one of my favorites, well worth seeking out for use in other recipes (source in the ingredient list, plus also available on Amazon).
Bermuda fish chowder was supposedly invented on the beaches of St. George’s, in cauldrons placed above bonfires around which everyone sat to drink and talk at the end of the day. Fish chowder was very local in its choice of ingredients: it used meat stock instead of milk (which can spoil), root vegetables (which were some of the few crops Bermuda’s farming environment could support) sherry peppers (known for their preservative qualities) and, of course, fish.
Chowder lovers expecting a thick, typically New England-style consistency will be disappointed. This is a brothy soup, appropriate to the warmer island climate.
My recipe of this classic is based closely on the canonical Outerbridge version of the chowder, but with some tweaks to better suit my personal palate.
Enjoy this unique taste of the islands, Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
4 qts water
2 lbs white fish fillets (Rockfish or Sea Bass work well) + 2 split Grouper or Sea Bass heads
1 tbs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
3 large Bermuda onions, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
8 ribs of celery, chopped, including leaves
2 yellow bell peppers
28 oz can of San Marzano whole tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1½ cup homemade chicken broth (or use low-salt, top-quality stock from a can/container)
1 cup Heinz Ketchup blended with 1 tablespoon of Balsamic Vinegar
½ cup parsley, chopped
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp fresh lime 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 – buy it here
4 tbs Outerbridge Sherry Peppers Sauce – buy it here
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and put in the fish fillets and heads plus the salt and spices. Lower flame and simmer for 45 minutes.
In another very large pot big 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 yellow peppers and sauté another few minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth and simmer for 30 minutes.
Now strain the fish stock into the cauldron.
Pick out the fish heads and remove, put the fillets back into the pot, 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 as well as very aromatic. If not thick enough you may resort to a little cornstarch and water, stirred into the boiling soup. At the end of the cooking time, add the sherry peppers sauce and Black Seal Rum. Serve immediately, or allow to cool and keep a day for more intense flavors. At serving time, pass around additional Black Seal Rum and sherry peppers sauce.