Breton Chowder


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Servings:

    4 or 5

Appears in

Simple French Food

By Richard Olney

Published 1974

  • About

Any kind of fish may find its way into a cotriade. If small, tender-fleshed fish—pilchard, sardines, smelts—are included, they should be whole and added only 5 or 6 minutes before removal from the flame. Originally, the smoky flavor from the bonfire over which the kettle of fish was cooked no doubt enhanced the rough, direct, soul-warming character of the thing. Cider is the usual accompaniment—some readers may share my preference for a Muscadet or other light, dry, young white wine.

One of the particularities of a cotriade lies in the liquid’s being undersalted. The fish, after being removed from the pot, is then salted by pouring over a ladle or so of the bouillon in which has been dissolved a handful of coarse sea salt. The heavily salted liquid is drained off immediately, and the process is repeated three or four times. The fish absorbs the salt with a certain avidity and must not be left long in contact with the liquid. I much prefer, rather than salting the fish before serving, to distribute small bowls or ramekins of the salty bouillon to each guest, along with others containing the vinegar-crushed pepper mixture; the ritual aspect is attractive and the individual may, dipping first in one, then in the other, season to taste, biteful by biteful.


  • 1 pound sweet onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (or, for authenticity, a handful of chopped fat salt pork)
  • 2 pounds firm-fleshed potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • Thyme, bay leaf, oregano
  • Salt (lightly)
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • 2 pounds fish (2 or more varieties, large fish cut into approximately 1-inch slices)


  • Dried bread slices
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns, coarsely crushed in a mortar and mixed with 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • A handful of coarse salt dissolved in 2 or 3 ladles of the broth


Cook the onions in a large, heavy saucepan with the oil (or the half-melted chopped fat) over medium heat for a minute or so, add the potatoes and herbs and continue cooking, stirring regularly, for 8 or 10 minutes or until the onions begin to color lightly, salt, pour over the boiling water and, as the potatoes begin to turn tender—about 15 minutes—add the fish (holding back the soft-fleshed varieties). Continue to cook at a light boil for another 10 or 15 minutes. Remove the fish and vegetables to a hot serving platter, prepare the accompanying salted broth, and serve the rest of the broth apart. Pour the broth, over the crusts of bread first placed in the soup plates, then the fish and vegetables served atop after the bread has been soaked.