05 August 2009

50 Chowders

chowder (chouder), n. [

Webster’s New World Dictionary

I love chowder. The recipe is basically the definition from Webster’s. In a big chaudière add some fish, onions and potatoes, a little milk and an hour later -- chowder.

Of course, as with most recipes, you can mix it up. Try using another protein, like chicken, or all vegetables. The milk in the definition was an addition popularized in the mid 1800’s. Jasper White is a leading authority on seafood. He researched the origins of chowder and compiled 50 Recipes, many of which he serves in his restaurant.

Original recipes for chowder were cooked in one pot, often over fire. They were layered affairs including salt pork, fish and crackers, the “hardtack” that is hard to find toady. The closest equivalent was the Nabisco Pilot Cracker but, alas, Nabisco has stopped making them. You can still find people in the Northeast who speak of “building a chowder” the phrase comes form the old-fashioned way of layering the chowder into a cast iron pot and baking it.

White wanted to re-create this kind of chowder. Here is his recipe.

Layered Fish Chowder

4 ounces meaty salt pork, rind removed and thinly sliced, or 4 ounces sliced bacon, each strip cut crosswise in half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large onions (about 18 ounces), sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 to 8 sprigs fresh summer savory or thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1 tablespoon)
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and sliced thin as possible
Kosher sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 pounds skinless baby cod or haddock filets, no more than 3/4 inch thick, pinbones removed
4 Pilot crackers (2 ounces) or 2 ounces oyster crackers, crumbles (1 heaping cup)
5 cups Strong Fish Stock, Traditional Fish Stock or Chicken Stock or water (as a last resort)
1 1/2 cup heavy cream

For Garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Preheat oven to 400F

2. Fry the salt pork in a 10 inch skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until browned and crisp. Remove the meat, leaving the fat in the pan, and set aside until later.

3. Add the butter, onions and savory or thyme, bay leaves, cloves, and nutmeg to the pan and sauté stirring often with a wooden spoon, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are tender but not browned. Remove from heat and let cool.

4. To build the chowder, place one third of the onion mixture(including the fat) into the bottom of the Dutch oven or braising pan, lay half or the sliced potatoes over the onions, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Lay half the fish over the potatoes and season lightly with salt and pepper. Crumble half the crackers over the fish. This is the first layer. Repeat the layering, and finish with the remaining onions.

5. Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and pour the fish stock over the layered chowder. Stick the handle of the wooden spoon through to the bottom in three or four places to be sure the stock circulates around the ingredients. Heat the pot until the stock is hot and steam is beginning to appear on the surface.

6. Cover the chowder, place in the oven, and cook for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by taking a potato slice from the top layer: it should be firm and nearly cooked through, if not, cover the pot and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes more.

7. Pour the cream into the chowder, then lay the slices of friend salt pork or bacon over the top. Bake uncovered, for 15 minutes longer, or until the creamy broth is lightly browned around the edges.

8. Present the chowder at the table, before you stir it, then stir it and season with salt and pepper if needed. Use a slotted spoon to place the chunks of fish, the onions and potatoes in the center of a large soup plates or shallow bowls. Put 1 piece of salt pork or bacon on top of each serving, ladle the creamy broth around the fish, and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

I don’t even bother with the skillet. I fry the bacon in the bottom of the pot, remove it, add the onions and cook them, then just remove 2/3 of the onions and you are ready to go. I vote for using the fewest pots as possible. I use Carr's crackers in place of Pilot Crackers. For more on the demise of Pilot Crackers check out this New York Times article.

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