Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sea Dreams and Chowder

I've always loved the ocean for as long as I can remember. Both my parents loved the beach even though my Dad wasn't a swimmer and my Mom's fair freckled skin burns easily. When I was little there were many summers when we would pile into the station wagon, my Dad would expertly fit in more luggage and beach paraphernalia than the back of the wagon should have held, and off we would go to the Eastern shore, usually to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

It was bliss to spend long days swimming in the ocean, making drip sand castles, lying on towels reading books and listening to the surf washing up on shore. Often we would eat fresh fish or oysters for dinner since the beach cottage always had a kitchen.

I still love the ocean and now I live a half hour drive away so I don't have to wait for summer. I also love fish and usually prepare it very simply. This week our local market had 10 0z jars of fresh local oysters on sale. There was also fresh coho salmon from Alaska at a not-too-astronomical price. I even found some tiny already cooked shrimp in the freezer section to add to the seafood.

For some reason as I was growing up and reached the age when I was old enough to cook dinner, my day to cook ended up being Friday. I suspect it may have been because no one else wanted to cook on Friday (no meat as we were good Catholics and this was far enough back that meat was off limits on Fridays), but it may also have been because I was slow in finishing my school work some days, so a Friday dinner responsibility didn't conflict with my studies.

Whatever the reason, I was the Friday cook and became very comfortable with cooking fish. When my Dad would show up with jars of fresh oysters on occasion, he almost always wanted them prepared as fried oysters...a messy and time consuming job! As you might imagine, when I bought oysters this week frying them was not what I had in mind.

As I found various kinds of seafood available it occurred to me that I could make a seafood chowder, full of all kinds of veggies and the seafood and that I could thicken it with mashed potatoes. To make it even better, I made part of the chowder one day and let it sit overnight to mingle the flavors, then finished it off tonight. The mashed potatoes were served hot with our evening meal the first night and the leftovers mashed potatoes were then stirred into the chowder base.

What was ladled into bowls tonight was a stupendous soup with celery, onions, mushrooms, parsley, those mashed potatoes, corn, peas, salmon, shrimp, oysters, and some pancetta, although you could leave that out if you wanted no meat at all.

Pancetta, which looks sort of like bacon

This soup is a dreamy sea-inspired chowder, perfect for chilly weather. You can always substitute other fish for the salmon, but make sure it is firm fish like cod or snapper or halibut. Frozen shrimp is readily available and sometimes you can also find scallops, calamari or other interesting substitutions.

If you are not using fresh oysters you will need to purchase some clam juice...about 6 - 8 oz should do substitute for the oyster juices.

As for the veggies, I would keep the onions and celery, although you could use yellow or white onions instead of the red. Idaho or baking potatoes make the best mashed potatoes for the thickener.

Fresh corn and/or peas are always great. Red pepper would be a nice addition...about 1/4 you can see that this is a recipe that can be played with pretty extensively and you will come out with a yummy seafood chowder no matter what you choose. Just remember to heat things through and to cook the seafood over a low heat so that it stays tender.

We served it up with a nice green salad some some fresh from the oven graham sourdough. I keep making this recipe over and over because I love the taste and it is so easy (if I keep the graham sourdough fed).

Seafood Chowder
Serves 2 - 4

1/8 lb pancetta, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, washed and chopped
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup water
2 cups mashed potatoes (see below if you need a recipe)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup cooked, flaked salmon
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/2 lb baby shrimp
10 oz. (1 jar) fresh oysters including their juices

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, over medium-low heat, cook the pancetta, stirring often, about 5 minutes to render some of the fat and to crisp the pancetta somewhat. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Put in an airtight container and refrigerate until time to finish the chowder.

To the same pot, with the pancetta drippings, add the chopped red onion. Stir to coat with the fat and cook, covered, for 5 minutes, stirring often, until translucent. Add the celery, stir and cover the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, cover and cook 2 minutes. Uncover the pot, add the lemon juice and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan and scrape up the browned bits. Add the water, stir and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the mashed potatoes, stir to combine. Mixture will be thick. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 3 hours to combine the flavors.

Place the saucepan with the mashed potato mixture over low heat and heat through, stirring often. Once mixture is hot add the flaked salmon, Italian parsley, peas, corn and baby shrimp. Stir to combine and continue to heat over low heat, stirring often, until everything is heated through.

While this is heating, recrisp the pancetta either on a paper towel in the microwave or by frying briefly in a small frying pan.

Once the chowder is heated through, add the oysters and their liquid. If the oysters are large, use a sharp knife to cut them into two or four pieces before stirring them into the chowder. Continue to heat the chowder for another 3 minutes or so until the oysters are just heated through.

Serve at once, garnished with a sprinkle of the pancetta on top.

Mashed Potatoes
5-6 large Idaho or baking potatoes, scrubbed, halved, and sliced, then put into a pot of cold water to cover
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Note: I like chunky mashed potatoes and I love potato skins so I leave them on. For a more refined mashed potatoes, peel the potatoes before cutting and use a potato ricer once the potatoes are drained.
Put the pot of prepared potatoes over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 20-30 minutes or until tender when pierced with the point of a sharp knife.

Drain the cooked potatoes and return them to the pot. Off heat, mash them with a potato masher. They will still be somewhat chunky.

Meanwhile heat the milk to scalding. Add to the potatoes with the butter, salt and pepper and mash some more until the potatoes are the consistency you like. Serve at once while still hot.

1 comment :

  1. Sounds like that chowder will make you smell the salt in the air.