Its funny the way that life sometimes starts to drop hints at a specific person, place, or thing. Frequently, for me, these hints point me towards a specific recipe, restaurant, or market. Lately, all signs have been pointing towards fish chowder. Let me explain, I’m currently fully engrossed in a new book I picked up at the library this past week. So much so in fact, that I completely neglected to post several recipes I whipped up in the last seven days, but fear not, we will get all those good dishes in due time. Back to the book, the novel, by E. Annie Proulx, is called “The Shipping News.” Her writing, the pace of the plot, diction, syncopation of words, all build to create an amazing, enrapturing story. The story follows the journey of a young single father, Quoyle, as he travels with his long lost Aunt back to her homeland in Newfoundland.
The images of the desolate fishing towns that run up and down the coast of Newfoundland are described in such vivid detail you can really picture the protagonist and his children as they go about their daily lives and travel across the icy and rocky terrain. While the terrain is bleak, the characters featured are rich and warm. Quoyle’s aunt is a bright and modern woman with traditional roots, who makes a deep impact on the novels plot and assists in bringing up Quoyle’s two small girls. Quoyle, a big man with an insatiable appetite, is frequently found in one of the local eateries tucking into some northern, fist studded dish. From lobster pie, to squid burgers, to fish and chips, seafood makes its way into every menu in every restaurant along the coast, and you can sure bet that fish chowder is a frequently featured entree.
As it so happens, I already have my own memories of the Eastern Canadian Coastline, and, consequently of chowder as well. When I was 12 I had the luxury of being able to attend an amazing summer camp in Nova Scotia. The camp was based on an island situated in the bay of Fundy that runs between the mainland shores to the west and Canadian peninsula to the east. Our daily activities revolved around whale watching. We departed shore each morning on a gleaming 40 foot schooner to assist marine biologists in tracking pods of whales as they moved through the bay’s chilly summer waters.
The trip was amazing, a truly once in a life time opportunity, and I enjoyed every minute I had to sit along the railings that circled the boat from bow to stern and watch the waves and the whales as they rolled by. Our vessel’s captain reminded me of Santa Clause, old and jovial, a slightly rounded belly and a sense for goodness. But instead of present’s the old captain promised a steaming bowl of the best ever summer corn chowder I have ever tasted. And to this day I have fond memories of that soup, the creamy flavors and textures of homey and hearty cool weather chowders always seems to calm my nerves and warm me up from the inside out.
This last weekend, overwhelmed by a sudden urge to cook up a crock of my own chowder I searched the pages of my (too many) cookbooks for the perfect recipe. And low and behold I found just the one. This smokey, light, and potato studded soup is just what the doctor ordered, and perfect for the early fall. The recipe comes from a cookbook (a side note to all of you cookbook junkies out there – this book is a real snag it provides great advice on cooking seafood in a way which is simultaneously delicious and eco friendly) by Barton Seaver titled “For Cod and Country.”
The original recipe called for smoked mussels, but I adapted it to use some of the smoked salmon I get from Costco that is super spectacular. The fish is a world apart from the typical thinly sliced and slightly oily smoked salmon found at most grocery stores, it comes in fillet style slabs, skin still on, and is light and flaky – it just falls apart in a fantastic way in this chowder (kind of reminds me of the texture of crab in a crab bisque.) The broth itself provides is a lighter, gentler base to this soup and really lets the flavors of the fennel and celery shine through. But perhaps the best part of the entire dish is the way the potatoes, softened and slightly crushed, thicken the otherwise light and brothy chowder. Ad the end result is oh so good, I highly recommend giving it a go! And if you do, give me a holler, and share you thoughts. Bon Appetit.
Smoked Salmon Chowder with Potatoes and Fennel
2 TBSP Butter
4 Large Russet Potatoes, Skin On, Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Large Onion Diced
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
3 Sprigs Thyme, Picked and Minced
1 Head of Fennel Cut into Small Dice (Roughly the Size of Your Chopped Onion, Perhaps a Hair Larger)
4 Stalks Celery Cut into Small Dice, Same Size as Fennel
1 TSP Fennel Seed, Ground
4 Cups Water
4 Ounces Smoked Salmon, Flaked into Bite Sized Pieces (Use Fillet Style Smoked Salmon if Available)
2 Cups Half and Half
Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, drain and set aside until needed.
While the potatoes cook, heat a large soup pot over medium high heat, add butter and allow to melt. Add onions, garlic and thyme and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until onions begin to soften, add fennel, celery, ground fennel, and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sweat, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes.
Add water, potatoes, and smoked salmon and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, gently mash some of the potatoes against the bottom and sides of the pot, this will help thicken the soup. Remove the pan from the heat and add half and half. Allow to sit for 20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Serve warm with slices of buttered crusty bread and enjoy the memories.