Deserted Island Coconut Fish Chowder

Coconut Fish Chowder

It’s been wet where I live. Which was fun for a while, but lately I find baked pasta and kümmel cocktails are no longer enough to fend off the chill. As the rain continues to come down in Los Angeles I’m reminded of the old phrase: “be careful what you wish for”. I admit I’ve been wishing for rain for the past six years. Which is ironic because now that it’s arrived I find myself slurping an Asian-Spiced Coconut Fish Chowder and reverting to another of my popular fantasies. The old “stranded on a deserted island” daydream. I find it comes in handy while negotiating oceans of standing water on Hollywood Blvd. It’s easy to imagine my Prius lost at sea.

But seriously, if I ever did find myself shipwrecked, I hope I’d wash ashore on an island full of coconut palms. The way I see it is this: a beachful of coconut trees is all I need to survive.

Coconut palms are very prolific. They contain enough liquid to quench my thirst and plenty of tasty meat to quell my hunger. They can bloom up to thirteen times a year and produce as many as sixty coconuts with each bloom. So if I were a castaway I’d need all sorts of coconut recipes, for all sorts of meals. In this country, coconut is used primarily as an ingredient in desserts such as coconut cream pie. However, my deserted island is far more likely to be found near Thailand or Indonesia where they use coconut meat to flavor curries and soups, not unlike this Coconut Fish Chowder.

Coconut Fish Chowder

However, coconuts are more than the primary ingredient in my deserted island kitchen. The trees also yield wood for shelter and fires, as well as fiber for rope. Rope, that I imagine I would use to macramé myself a fish net. You can’t make Coconut Fish Chowder without fish.

Because of the rain I’ve also tossed green beans and baby potatoes into my recipe to make this soup a chowder appropriate for the cool weather. Yes, I realize I’ll have trouble finding green beans and baby potatoes on my deserted island. But this is my rainy day fantasy. Just go with it. GREG

Coconut Fish Chowder

Coconut and Asian-Spiced Fish Chowder 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4–6Published
Coconut and Asian-Spiced Fish Chowder


  • 2 tablespoon coconut oil (may substitute vegetable oil)
  • 1 yellow onion (peeled, halved, and thinly sliced)
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • kosher salt (as needed for seasoning)
  • 3 cup fish stock (may substitute clam juice)
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves (may substitute 2 teaspoon lime zest)
  • 1 (1‑inch) piece fresh ginger (peeled and julienned)
  • 6 ounce baby potatoes (cut into ½‑inch pieces)
  • 2 celery ribs (thinly sliced on the bias)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • ¼ pound green beans (trimmed and cut into bite size pieces)
  • 1 pound firm white fish (such as halibut or cod, cut into 1‑inch chunks)
  • 2 tablespoon Asian fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • cilantro (as needed for garnish)
  • shredded unsweetened dried coconut flakes (as needed for garnish)
  • thinly sliced Thai bird chile (as needed for garnish, optional)


Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, and a big pinch salt; cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add fish stock, kaffir leaves (or zest), and ginger. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 4 to 5 minutes. 

Add baby potatoes, celery, and bay leaf to the simmering stock and cook, stirring occasionally until tender, about 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and add the coconut milk. Bring the broth back to a simmer then add green beans and cook 1 to 2 minutes (depending on how crisp you like them). Add the fish, continue to simmer without stirring until the fish is just cooked through and the green beans are tender-crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes depending on thickness.

Stir in fish sauce and sugar. Discard the kaffir and bay leaves. Ladle the soup into bowls; garnish with cilantro, shredded coconut and chile slices (if using).