Chowder (from the French word chaudiere, referring to the cooking vessel) has been around New England for at least a couple of centuries. It`s the inclusion of salt pork or bacon, onions and cubed potatoes that differentiate chowder from other seafood soups. Chowders used to be “built“ of layers of ingredients that included ship`s biscuit or crackers as a thickener, but that practice has fallen by the wayside, and now the crackers are served alongside.

CLASSIC DOWN EAST HADDOCK CHOWDER

The virtue of Maine-style fish chowder is its simplicity. It`s always a milky, brothy chowder, unembellished with wine or heavy cream and tasting mostly of the fresh, locally caught haddock from which it is made. This recipe is a classic — the main concession to modernity is the addition of fresh thyme, which you can omit or reduce if you prefer. The secret to chowder`s depth of flavor lies in the aging process, during which all the elements have a chance to blend, resulting in a most successful and happy marriage.

Servings: 4 to 6 as a main course; about 2 quarts

3 ounces bacon or salt pork, cut in small pieces (about ¾ cup)

1 large onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, sliced (optional)

2 cups bottled clam juice

1 cup water, plus additional if necessary

3 cups diced russet or all-purpose potatoes such as Yukon gold

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups half-and-half

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

2 pounds haddock or other similar mild white fish, cut in 2- to 3-inch chunks

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

In a large soup pot, cook bacon or salt pork over medium heat until crisp and fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. You should have 1 to 2 tablespoons of fat.

Add onion and optional celery to the drippings and cook over medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add clam juice, water, potatoes, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add half-and-half and thyme. Add fish, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until fish is opaque, about 5 minutes. Cool uncovered, and refrigerate for several hours (overnight, if possible).

When ready to serve, add butter, reheat gently, adjusting seasonings and adding more liquid if necessary, and ladle into bowls. Pass a bowl of the reserved bacon bits for sprinkling if desired.

CREAMY SMOKED FISH AND CORN CHOWDER

My writing partner, Melanie Barnard, and I developed this chowder recipe when we were doing a regular monthly column for Bon Appétit magazine called “30-Minute Main Courses.“ Every dish had to come in at under half an hour, and ingredients lists needed to be short. This chowder is based on one of those recipes, and it`s a real keeper. The salty-smoky fish not only replaces the traditional bacon or salt pork, but also provides plenty of great fish flavor. As one happy magazine reader reported, “This recipe had a lot of bang for the buck, time-wise and flavor-wise.“ Just add a dark leafy green salad and a basket of country bread, and you`ve got a truly terrific meal.

Servings: 4 as a main course

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup bottled clam juice

1 cup water

1 pound red-skinned potatoes chopped into ¾-inch dice

4 cups half-and-half

11/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels

8 ounces smoked peppered mackerel, smoked trout or other smoked fish, skin and bones removed, broken into rough ¾-inch chunks

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried

Coarse-ground black pepper (if not using peppered fish)

In a medium-large soup pot, melt butter. Add onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add clam juice, water and potatoes, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until potatoes are almost tender, about 10 minutes.

Add half-and-half and corn and continue to simmer gently over medium to medium-low heat until corn and potatoes are both tender, about 10 minutes. (Do not boil vigorously, or the chowder could curdle.) Stir in the smoked fish, tarragon and pepper, if using. Let stand for at least an hour before serving to allow flavors to blend, or refrigerate for up to a day. Reheat gently.