When Helen and Larry Mugnai opened Helen’s Restaurant in Machias, Maine, in 1950, their fish chowder—made with North Atlantic haddock—was served only on Fridays. So you can thank current owners Julie and David Barker, who made some slight alterations (let’s call them improvements) to the “wildly popular” chowder, for making it a daily item. Its simplicity and resourcefulness are all Down East ingenuity: The haddock is cooked in the potato water, and that broth becomes the basis of the chowder. When a devastating fire last summer forced the Barkers to rebuild their restaurant, they upgraded the design by relocating a fireplace and adding small conference rooms and a bar, but they knew where to draw the line: They wouldn’t dream of changing the menu, which means that the haddock chowder is here to stay. Diners will once again enjoy a hearty bowl overlooking the Machias River when the restaurant reopens, which the Barkers say is sometime early this spring.
In a 5- to 7-quart pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.
Pour the water into a 3- to 4-quart pot and add the potatoes. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the fish to the potato liquid and simmer until the fish begins to flake, about 10 minutes. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and add it and the potatoes to the cooked onions in the larger pot. Stir.
Slowly add the potato/fish broth and the heavy cream to the onion/fish/potato mixture. Stir well. Add the salt and white pepper; then add the dill. Simmer gently over low heat for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.
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