August Recipe of the Month!
I’m writing this from Maine. I know. Woe is me. It’s a pretty sweet deal and great family tradition. My mom rents a camp (that’s what they’re called—an unwinterized cottage with very few amenities, hard to come by these days) right on the water along the Midcoast, and I get to go for a part of that every year, and now with my husband. My one job is the cooking. Bus(wo)man’s holiday? Nah. I never tire of cooking. And the one thing I always make is fish chowder. I make it first and make again so I leave a ton for her to keep eating after we leave. I don’t vary the recipe much, sometimes the (local) fish is different, sometimes I’ll try a different kind of potato, and occasionally I add corn. I grew up on Long Island but I come from a long line of New Englanders. This is my dad’s recipe, but it’s so simple I suppose it could be anyone’s. Chowder is not complicated but most people add too much to it, especially thickeners. Don’t add any flour or cornstarch unless you want something akin to wallpaper paste (it’s a milk-based soup, it is not supposed to be thick!). And even though it’s hot out, it’s not too rich so makes a nice summer supper. So go on, channel your inner Yankee and give this a try!
New England Fish Chowder
If you are pescatarian, omit the pork fat and use vegetable oil or butter. If you are vegetarian, omit the fish too and just add 4 ears of corn scraped off the cob.
Yield: 8 servings
½ lb. salt pork (or bacon if you can’t find salt pork)
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2 large starchy potatoes, such as Russet, cut into 1” dice
½ gallon whole milk
1 pound white fish, such as cod, haddock or hake, diced into bite-sized chunks
Chopped herbs, such as parsley and chives, for garnish
Remove the rind of the pork fat back if still intact and reserve. Cut the remaining pork into ¼” dice. (If there’s time, freeze the pork for an hour and it will be easier to cut). Heat a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat and add the rind and diced pork fat. Cook until the pork cubes are golden brown and crisp. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate and reserve for garnish. Leave the rind in the pan. Carefully remove excess fat from the pan, saving it for another use, leaving about ¼ cup or a thin coating along the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and cook until softened but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes, milk and a pinch or two of salt. Simmer until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart (insert a knife to check for doneness), about 15 minutes. Add the fish and simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt. A good amount of freshly cracked black pepper is traditional and delicious. Discard rind.
Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the reserved pork fat and herbs. Serve with a salad and good crusty bread.
Clam chowder: add one can of chopped clams and 3 dozen fresh clams to the pot and simmer until they open. Discard any that do not open.
Lobster chowder: Cook two lobsters and remove the meat. Stir in just before serving.
A mixture of both clams and fish is also delicious!