This arrangement is brilliant for both of us: Chris gets healthy, strengthening soups and I get to try out old favourites and make new discoveries. One of my first discoveries is that I don't hate seafood chowder at all.
What has the poor old chowder done to me? This is going to sound a bit radical, but I don't think that I have ever (EVER) had a good chowder. Fighting talk I know, but all the chowders I have eaten have been utterly bland or so glooey in texture, tasting of instant mashed potato or even wallpaper paste, as to be an insult to the seafood. So there, I've said it, I don't like chowder.
Before Chris retired, he was a marine engineer. He travelled the world (well the high seas anyway) and has a fund of funny stories, mostly of "I was sitting in a bar when . . . " variety, full of pirates, gangsters, mercenaries, and other flotsam washed up in dockside bars in some of the world's less hospitable corners.
It was when he was working in Canada, that Chris experienced chowder for the first time. It was thick, creamy and delicious; it apparently makes the perfect hangover cure too, although I have to take his word for it.
So I ransacked my cookbooks and trawled the internet for the definitive chowder. What type of seafood? Waxy or floury potatoes? Flour? Cream? Herbs and spice? It turns out that there is a real hotbed of passionate debate out there on how to make the perfect chowder.
My version had a few constraints in that all the vegetables and seafood had to be chopped finely in order for Chris to be able to swallow easily. I wanted a thick soup, but not too thick, so that you could taste the individual ingredients. So I ended up compromising by blending up half the soup. This also meant that I didn't need to add any flour or extra cream, since the soup was rich and creamy without.
Chris loved the soup so much that I had to make it the next day too. He ate an entire saucepan of the stuff - which I have worked out contains about 10 pints. This chap most certainly has hollow legs and must be on the road to recovery!
So here is my (not very authentic) utterly delicious version . . .
Skill level: Easy
600g white fish (I used a mixture of cod and haddock) - skinned and cut into bite-sized chunks
70g unsmoked back bacon, finely chopped
1 x English onion (about 100g), finely chopped
600g floury potatoes, peeled and diced
140g frozen sweetcorn, defrosted
750ml fish stock
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
1 x bay leaf
a sprig of fresh thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh parsley, finely chopped (to serve)
- In a large heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter. Gently fry the bacon for 5 minutes, then tip in the onions and continue to cook for another 10 minutes until the onions have softened.
- Add the potatoes, stock and herbs. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
- Blend half the mixture until smooth, and then return to the pan together with the sweetcorn. Add the Worcestershire sauce and check the seasoning. Bring back to a simmer.
- Add the fish. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so (or until the fish is cooked through), before serving topped with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
- I would normally add chopped carrots and celery to the onions when frying.
- Pollack, whiting or even gurnard would work very well.
- Replace some of the fish with prawns or cockles, clams and mussels.
- Use spring onions instead of old onions. Cook the white parts in butter with the bacon. Add the green parts to the soup with the fish.
- In the States, traditional New England chowder would be served with Saltines, a type of small, dry, salted cracker for dipping into the soup. I substituted Ritz Crackers as a bit of a joke. The joke was on me as everyone loved them. There were lots of "ooh, haven't had one of these in years!" types of comments, and the box was emptied. (Do check out their website; they have a recipe page!)