Martin Bosley’s classic fish chowder has all the warming flavours of nostalgia and comfort.

There is no emotional backstory here; no concept, no ‘chef’s philosophy’ or ingredients you need to go foraging for. It is, in fact, a simple tale of a city farmers’ market and an unpretentious soup that had a cult following. Like any good tale, it begins with ‘Once upon a time’.

Once upon a time I was the co-founder, along with Rachel Taulelei, of Wellington’s City Market, a farmers’-style market located on the waterfront. Every Sunday for more than seven years, I would sell bacon-and-egg sandwiches while Rachel sold her fresh fish, oysters and steaming cups of fish chowder. Shoppers would line up for the soup – some choosing to ‘supersize’ it with the addition of a just-shucked oyster or two – and sit to eat it at one of the market’s long tables, jostled by other shoppers laden with produce. Market food is rarely disappointing, especially when it is sold side-by-side with the ingredients from which it is made, and the soup quickly gained a reputation. It was something you had to have, its comforting qualities doing much to restore and revive on a Sunday morning.

The soup was made each Sunday morning in the small kitchen attached to the market. It was a simple, attitude-free chowder – parsley-flecked, spoon-coatingly thick, with notable chunks of potato and fish, the backbone, of course, being the fish. Smoked fish was added to bring an intriguing woodsy warmth that seemed appropriate at any time of the year, but particularly in winter. Think smoked fish risotto or smoked fish pie and you’ll get my drift.

There remains something primitive about smoked fish. It’s something that connects us to the great outdoors, the interface of man using smoke to preserve food, along with something visceral about fire. Forward-thinking chefs are inspired by a wave of Scandinavian and Spanish cooking with its emphasis on wood-fired grills, which has seen everyone lighting up and even converting old fridges into smokers. Smoked fish is the new beetroot gravlax, it seems. It’s all about flavour and arguments can be had over hot smoking versus cold smoking, fire, charcoal and which wood is used. The warmth and smoke from embers is being used to enhance just about everything – butter is being smoked as are yoghurt and salt – in the belief that there’s little that cannot be improved by smouldering lumps of charcoal.

Various types of fish may be smoked, including salmon, trout, kingfish, trevally, tuna and the people’s fish – kahawai. Choice depends really on personal preference and regional availability and each fish has its own unique flavour profile when smoked. Following a simple brining or salting process, it is then exposed to smoke. The temperature and duration of smoking varies depending on the fish and the desired outcome. Properly smoked fish should have a firm texture, vibrant colour and a pleasant smoky aroma. Cold smoked is better for fish that need to be cooked further, while hot smoked is more suitable for anything likely to be eaten straight away. Just remove the skin from some smoked fish fillets and carve into long, thin slices. Lay them close together on a serving platter and coat with a marinade made with lemon juice, chervil, chives, mint and tarragon, then season with some ground black pepper. Serve with slices of unbuttered brown bread for a quick lunch fix.

Like all good tales, this one ends with a happily ever after. Though the market no longer exists, the demand for the chowder recipe remains. I have to confess, the recipe isn’t mine – I made it each week to a strict set of instructions, and I have permission to give it to you.

Feel free to add mussels or clams or to supersize it yourself with a couple of fresh oysters dropped in as you serve it. Serve some crusty baguette on the side along with some chilli oil or hot sauce for those that like things spicy.