Top 8 fish soups tested

A decent chowder — fish-flavoured and bulked up with vegetables — makes a hearty and healthy meal, says Roz Crowley.

Ash Wednesday, even for many non-Catholics, is a day for fish, and is as good an excuse as any to look for something warming and satisfying that celebrates Ireland’s wonderful seafood. 

A decent chowder — fish-flavoured and bulked up with vegetables — makes a hearty and healthy meal. 

The texture can be chunky or with smaller pieces of fish, potatoes, carrots, leeks and parsley as well as milk and/or cream to provide flavour and silky weight.

A bisque is a soup which usually focuses on shellfish, especially lobster — more their shells than lots of flesh. The shells are cooked and pounded to extract all the great flavour. 

Once their stock has been strained, it is often enriched with tomato purée and wine and sometimes thickened with rice and puréed for a smooth, slightly grainy texture.

In France, you will find it served as a soup with croutons and a sprinkling of thickly grated cheese — often Parmesan.

As an easy version of a bouillabaisse, that wonderful, Provencal main course fish soup, a good readymade bisque is delicious with a handful of mixed fresh fish pieces heated for five to 10 minutes. 

Fishmongers and supermarkets have plenty, but ask them to remove the smoked fish.

Top with a dessertspoonful of rouille, the zingy mayo, and finish with croutons for a wonderful preview of summer. A recipe for rouille is on my blog: 

La Perle des Dieux Soupe de Poissons 700g €5.22

This fish soup in a tall glass bottle has the enriching addition of carrots, onions, leek, celery, white wine and Dublin Bay prawns and other sea fish. 

The thickener is modified tapioca starch which is not overdone and, while we did not discern the added lobster flesh, the result was a lively, richly shellfish flavoured spicy bisque made silkier with olive and sunflower oils and colourful from tomato concentrate.

Score: 8.5

Mr Good’s Seafood Chowder 480g €2.95

A fish content of 19% is a nicely balanced mix of salmon, white and smoked fish. There is cream, and fish, and vegetable stocks are thickened with flour but not too much. 

Bits of carrot, celery, onion, butter provide texture. Lemon juice, salt, parsley, dill, and white pepper add to the flavour. The only ingredient we don’t like to see here is monosodium glutamate (MSG) which masks the fishy flavour a little.

Score: 7

Crosshaven Seafood Chowder 480ml €2.75

Fresh fish of 13% includes cod, smoked coley and salmon are added to with 8.2% dehydrated fish. 

Water and fish stock are thickened with potato starch and there is plenty of cream which adds to the smooth texture spiked with decent chunks of flavoursome fish. 

Potato, carrot, celery and onion feature but also a few flavour enhancers, including MSG.

Score: 7

Kinsale Bay Seafood Chowder 400g €3.95

Gluten free, there is a 20% fish mix which includes smoked and white fish and salmon. Slightly low on flavour, but easily remedied with a little more salt or pepper, the large chunks of fish and potato were liked by tasters. 

There is cream, with thickening provided by gluten-free flours. There is also carrot, onion, fennel, leek and lemon juice. Tasters could not discern the listed tarragon. Made in Cork.

Score: 7

Marks & Spencer Smoked Haddock Chowder 600g €3.90

A low enough 10% smoked haddock provides all the fish content and not quite enough fish flavour for tasters. 

Tasty potatoes, leeks, onion and fennel helped the overall result and the texture had enough milk and cream for a creamy texture which is thickened with cornflour. 

Parsley, ground bay leaves and black pepper are added but it is a less exciting chowder than other samples.

Score: 6

Cully & Sully Smoked Haddock & Salmon Chowder 400g €2.59

Small pieces of potato and fish make this a homogenous mix of smoked haddock and hot smoked salmon with good fish flavour, with nice smokiness coming through. 

Liked by tasters, there is a lot of potato, some carrot along with cream, milk and butter, lifted with lemon juice, fresh parsley, smoked paprika and cayenne peppers.

Score: 7.25

Baxters Cullen Skink 400g €3.49

This can of haddock chowder is a Scottish speciality with 15% smoked haddock, 19% potatoes, and onions. 

The cream, skimmed milk powder, butter, cornflour, wheatflour, parsley, black pepper, nutmeg and mace extract provided some flavour, but the fish was quite dry and the overall result less appetising than other samples.

Score: 6

Ferrer Lobster Bisque Soup 720ml €4.50

Gluten free with water thickened with modified corn starch, this smooth liquid has shrimps,. mussels, tomato, onion, cuttlefish, white wine and 1.5% lobster which reads well, but does not quite deliver on flavour. 

The ingredients are all natural, though, and the soup, in its tall, glass bottle, has a good, silky texture, so some extra tomato paste and pepper could make a difference. Try adding to a fish pie. Made in Spain.

Score: 6


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