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Home » Practicing the basics: fish chowder

Practicing the basics: fish chowder

Here’s a super easy, very tasty recipe for fish chowder that provides plenty of opportunities to experiment: different kinds of fish, adjusting the herbs and seasonings, and different kinds of milk.

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Makes about 4 servings, depending on your portion size. Time required: 1 hour 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 3 slices of thick-cut bacon, rind removed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled (optional), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • 1 pound fish, skinned and de-boned, cut into 1-inch square pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the rind from the bacon and cut it up into 1/4-inch pieces. Place the bacon in a large stock pot and fry it over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the meat has cooked (but not crisp). We will use the bacon fat to saute other ingredients, in place of oil or butter.

Add the onion and potatoes and saute over low heat until the onion is soft and translucent, about ten minutes. Aromatic vegetables, plus some bulk from potatoes.

Add the fish stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about twenty minutes.

Stir in the fish, parsley and chives. Continue to simmer over low heat until the fish is cooked through, 4-5 minutes.

Add the milk and heat over low heat until it just starts to simmer (an occasional bubble, but not a full boil). If you bring it to a full boil, the milk can scald.

Remove from heat and season to taste. Serve immediately.

Tips and suggestions:

  • The bacon adds a lot of saltiness, so be sure to taste it before you add any more salt.
  • The recipe works well with a number of different kinds of fish: haddock, cod, even salmon. My personal favorite is smoked salmon, which holds its own against the strong tastes of the bacon, onion and parsley. Thicker cuts of fish work better.
  • You can substitute russet potatoes for the yukon gold. If you want to try other types of potatoes, keep in mind that they have different textures when cooked
  • Removing the skin from fish can be a challenge. One approach is to fry it in a small amount of oil, skin-side down, over low heat in a frying pan for about one minute, just enough to cook a bit of the flesh next to the skin (but not enough to cook fish all the way through); then remove it from the pan, flip it over (skin-side up), and the skin should easily peel off.
  • Change the proportions of the parsley and chives to your liking. Or substitute different ones; for example, dill goes well with salmon.
  • Fish stock can be difficult to find, and it is more involved to make than chicken stock. I keep a jar of Better than Bouillon fish stock concentrate in my fridge as a backup.
  • This recipe has plenty of water and fat to bring out flavors, but it has neither acid nor alcohol — the other two things that flavors dissolve in to allow us to taste them. I think it’s plenty tasty the way it is, but you could try adding a dash of lemon juice or hot sauce, and/or sherry or brandy, to bring out some other flavors.
  • This recipe is thinner and more watery than a classic New England-style clam chowder, despite also having potatoes and cream. In part that’s because fish is a lot more delicate than clams so we don’t cook it long enough for the potatoes and cream to work their magic. But if you want to try to thicken it a bit more, you could mix in a couple of tablespoons of all-purpose flour with the onion and potatoes about a minute before you add the fish stock. Or mix 1 tablespoon of corn starch with 1/4 cup of cold water until thoroughly dissolved, then pour it into the pot when you add the fish, parsley and chives.

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