One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Smoked Chowder

Much as it pains me to say this, summer is well and truly over. We have had a great few days of Indian summer in Boston, but with five straight days of rain on the forecast, it looks like even those are on their way out. To comfort myself in the face of grey skies and cold weather, I tried my hand at a chowder recipe from this month's issue of Bon Appetit. A chowder is a thick, cream-based soup most often made with seafood, potatoes or corn. The only chowder I've ever tried is the famous New England clam chowder, and the most renowned version of the latter is served at the venerated New England restaurant chain Legal Sea Foods. It is delicious but way too rich in my opinion to be anything more than an occasional indulgence. This recipe, however, is thickened with mashed potatoes rather than cream - in fact, with less than one tablespoon of cream per serving, it is deceptively light yet still decadent and filling. Instead of clams, a smoked fish fillet is used and adds a haunting smoky backbone to the soup. A smattering of snipped chives provides a nice oniony finish. 

Smoked Chowder
Adapted from here. The original recipe calls for smoked haddock. I substituted a smoked bluefish filet with excellent results and think you can make the soup with any smoked fish (except for the thinly-sliced smoked salmon available everywhere!) Serve with oyster crackers for an authentic New England experience. Serves 4.

A boneless smoked fish filet (8-9 oz / 250 gr)
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 leek, white part only, cut in half length-wise, each half cut into 1/4 inch thick half moons
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch cubes
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 tbsp (50 ml) heavy cream
A few chive stalks

1) Put the fish filet in a small pot with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. 

2) Transfer the fish to a plate but don't discard the water. Discard the skin of the fish and shred the flesh. 

3) Heat the olive oil or butter over medium heat in a pot. Cook the leek until soft, about 5 minutes. 

4) Add the diced potatoes and thyme sprigs and strain the fish-poaching water into the pot. Season the soup with salt. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked, 12-16 minutes. 

5) With a slotted spoon, transfer about half the potatoes to a plate and mash them with a fork. Return the potatoes to the pot and simmer for a few more minutes.

6) Take the pot off the heat. Stir in the cream and the fish. Ladle into bowls. With a pair of scissors, snip the chives over the bowls. 

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