Monday, October 11, 2010

An Accidental Chowder, or, the Pleasures of Fish and Cream

I was recently thumbing through a group of cookbooks, all excellent soup cookbooks featuring soups of New England and chowders. The idea was to test and compare approaches to "authentic" clam chowder. I had a huge batch of fresh clams, potatoes and cream, fresh thyme, onions, and some good fresh cod - in short, all the essentials every one of these authentic recipes required. But as I was ready to go, one item was missing, the salt pork. The salt pork is key: the saltiness, a bit of the smoky, and fat to render with the onions. Clam chowder was suddenly out, at least the New England variety. I did end up making a Manhattan-style clam chowder, and the clams were gainfully deployed, but the recipe I developed was unfortunately not a winner.

Next morning, still without salt pork, I decided to use the nice fresh chunks of cod in a delicate creamy concoction that turned out just perfectly. As New England fish chowder, it wasn't authentic at all, and I borrowed little from the recipes I thought I would feature. But it was definitely worth writing about - quick and simple, too.

I had a short pint of fish stock stored in the freezer, and this with a bottle of store bought bottled clam juice was my stock. I sauteed the onions in butter with a little light olive oil, then let them express with some good white wine. Added broth and potatoes, seasonings, then brought to a simmer until the potatoes were soft. Meanwhile, I heated the cream with a little tarragon - very important step! The cream should be steamy, slightly foamy, but not at a full boil. If the cream is not heated first, it will curdle in the soup! After the cream is added, the cubed fish need only poach in the broth for 5 minutes or so - just until they are opaque and flake easily. Recheck seasonings, especially pepper, then serve immediately. A perfectly delicate chowdery "accident", in just 20 minutes!

Fish Chowder with a French Accent!

2 tbspn butter + 1 tbspn light olive oil
3/4 pound fresh cod or haddock, in bite-size chunks
1 medium onion, diced fine
1/2 cup good white wine
2 cups diced Yukon Gold potatoes
2 cups fish broth or clam juice
1 cup water or light chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
sprig of fresh tarragon, or pinch of dried
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch of cayenne pepper
freshly ground pepper

As above, start with the onions, and when translucent, add the wine, simmering off the the alcohol. Season with the thyme, stirring for a minute or so, then add all the liquids except the cream, the potatoes, the bay leaf and salt, pepper, and cayenne, and continue to cook until the potatoes are soft. Heat the cream with the sprig of tarragon in a separate pot as described above. Add in a 1/2 cup of the broth from the soup, and slowly pour the cream mixture back into the soup pot. Remove the tarragon sprig, add the fish cubes and allow the fish to poach in the broth for about 5 minutes. The fish should be opaque, tender, and easy to flake with a fork. Check the seasonings, adding salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately with a garnish of parsley. New England style chowder crackers are allowed!

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