"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china."

Charles Dickens

January 13, 2012

Hearty Seafood Chowder


Being from New England, I have learned the fine, but easy art, of making chowder. Recently I wrote a guest blog for a fellow Kentucky Food Blogger, Mindy Wilson, while she is tripping around Europe, tasting Viennese pastries and all manner of wonderful foods, with her professor husband on a college class excursion. I had suggested corn chowder, knowing that January can often be perfect for such meals (well, at around 55 degrees until the past few days, it's actually been quite balmy). Click here for that recipe and blog post at The World in My Kitchen. [And yes, I really did spill chowder on the Mayor of Lincoln, England in my first, and last, catering attempt!]

It is versatile and the basic chowder can translate into corn, seafood, fish or clam. What was fun was writing down the recipe, at last, for Mindy's blog, and then realizing I could, with a few minor tweaks, make it into other chowders. While I made the corn chowder for The World in My Kitchen before Christmas, the other day I finally made our Christmas Eve Seafood Chowder (for New Year's instead). And, I was pleasantly surprised that about $15 worth of frozen seafood (cod, shrimp and scallops) at Walmart was practically indiscernible from using fresh (which would have been far more expensive here in Kentucky: although Lexington Seafood is the place to go for a fresh splurge, which we do about once a year).

This is a hearty milk-based soup with New England origins–perfect on a cold winter's day with a loaf of crusty bread (or better yet, oyster crackers). You can also use this recipe, with minor changes, to make any number of *chowders [see below]. In about an hour, from start until serving, you will have a big vat of chowder to feed many appetites––and, if you are lucky, you'll even have leftovers for the next day. Chowder is even better once the flavors have had a chance to meld.

The roux, as it is thickening, before transferring to a larger kettle.


Hearty Seafood Chowder
  • 12 oz. (3/4 pound) diced bacon (we prefer using smoked bacon and usually our own)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped (you can add a bit of red onion, if desired)
  • 1 cup celery, chopped (include some leaves)
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper (OPTIONAL: I did not add this because my husband does not care for red peppers)
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 4 large baking-sized potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 quart fish or lobster stock (if not, chicken stock will do)
  • 1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
  • lots of fresh ground pepper
  • liberal dashes of sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 3/4 cup flour, or more, depending on how thick you'd like it
  • 6-8 cups whole milk (you could use other kinds of milk but whole works best)
  • 2-3 pounds assorted fresh (or uncooked and previously frozen) seafood in any combination: scallops, shrimp, tilapia, cod, clams, lobster, etc.
  • 1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half, if you must)


  1. On medium high heat in a Dutch oven, large skillet or heavy-duty stock pot, cook bacon, with garlic, until almost done and starting to crisp up a bit. Stir frequently and do not drain!
  2. Add onions, celery, parsley (and red bell pepper, if desired) and cook until translucent.
  3. Add salt and pepper. Stir.
  4. Add diced potatoes. Stir for several minutes.
  5. Add the flour (3/4 cup if you want a slightly thicker chowder) and stir well.
  6. Add 1 quart chicken stock and stir until thickened and bubbly.
  7. Add paprika (about one large teaspoon).
  8. Set to low, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are done, but not too soft (about 15 minutes).
  9. Transfer your chowder "roux" to a large 2-gallon kettle. 
  10. Heat on low, with 6-8 cups whole milk until just before boiling (do not boil!). Stir well as mixture will start to thicken somewhat from the roux.
  11. Add the seafood, chopped into bite-sized morsels (frozen is fine and you don't have to thaw it unless shelling the shrimp: the cod or tilapia will likely flake on their own).
  12. Cook on low, stirring frequently, until nicely heated.
  13. Shortly before serving, add heavy cream and stir in.
  14. Serve with homemade croutons, a good crusty bread or old-fashioned oyster crackers.
I like to turn off the kettle when the chowder is done, cover it, and take it off the burner. This will keep it warm until supper but will assure that the soup doesn't boil. You can also freeze this. It makes almost two gallons, too, so perfect for a crowd or for a stretch of easy meals.

And remember, you can take the girl out of New England, but you can't take New England out of the girl!


NOTES:

*The wonderful beauty of this chowder is, with a few minor changes, you can readily make it into a Corn Chowder, New England Clam Chowder, or Fish Chowder (or any number of things: mushroom, hearty vegetable, etc.) Here's how:
  • For CORN, use 1 quart chicken stock and eight cups canned, frozen or fresh corn (or a combination) in place of seafood;
  • For CLAM, use 1 quart clam broth and 1-2 quarts fresh shucked clams (or canned);
  • For FISH, use 1 quart fish stock and 2 pounds chopped up fresh (or frozen) fish (Cod works best as it holds up well in the soup).
  • For OYSTER, use 1 quart fish stock (which can include the oyster "liquor") and 1 quart of fresh, frozen or canned oysters. Oyster Stew uses whole oysters without the potatoes and bacon etc. and Oyster Bisque is when the oysters have been cooked in their own broth, and milk, with a bit of seasoning, and then put through a blender: we always had this for the soup course at Christmas Eve at my grandparents' in Akron. Wonderful food memories there!
[You can also use chicken stock instead of fish stock, which can be harder to find and more expensive.]

You come back when you're ready! 

Catherine

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