It's winter time and I would just like to say that the tiny little almost unnoticeable amount of snow we just got today completely justifies the fact I just indulged in a giant bowl of cream-based, hearty, homemade fish chowder.
I would also like to say: ooooooh yum.
I've been craving seafood ever after we discovered the existence of a fantastic fresh fish market less than 20 minutes away from where we live. Supposedly the fish come straight from the Fulton Fish Market in NYC every morning, and I believe it, since the Valentine's Day Dinner salmon that Greg cooked up tasted better than any fish I've had in the three years that I've lived here. They have very good fish at reasonable prices.
The idea for this chowder came from an amazing lobster bisque that Greg and I enjoyed while we were lazy bystanders in a small Connecticut town, waiting to see my friend Becky run by us on her way to completing the Mystic Marathon. We just ate a very heavy meal and finished a bottle of wine while we waited. The bisque was amazing. The wine they served with it transformed the meal into something surreal. It was cheesy, creamy, fishy and perfect. Ever since finding out about this fish market, I've been wanting to make something akin to it... though perhaps I would prefer a very slightly healthier version of the bisque.
Here I caramelized mushrooms and onions with white wine. I wanted to cook the tougher vegetables (potatoes, carrots and celery) before assembling the chowder, since otherwise the scallops would overcook. I didn't want to lose all of their flavor by boiling them and tossing out the cooking liquid - instead, I simmer down their cooking water until everything was soaked up. The starch from this process also helped to thicken the base.
Speaking of the chowder base, I used one cup of half and half with two cups fish stock instead of a slightly more typical whole cream base. Then came the cheeses, 2 cups in total: Cheddar for flavor, Romano for salt, and Gruyere for its amazing meltability.
Choosing the fish was a bit half-hazard, as I found myself on the spot at the fish market without any premeditated decisions to guide me. I picked up a small amount of cod, scallops and good crab meat. The cod was perfect and flaky. The crab meat added great depth to the background base. I was worried about the scallops overcooking, but it all worked out miraculously: the scallops were tender and cooked through. I think this combination of seafood created a subtle but not overwhelming flavor. I wouldn't be sad to add either lobster meat or clams, though the budget prohibited that this time.
I topped the whole thing with my favorite wholewheat, store-bought pie crust - I know, cheater, you say! I do think it was worth the store-bought crust - the particular brand available to me is actually quite good (and not so bad for you), and it shaved so much prep time that I didn't even consider making my own. Alternately, you could top this with bread crumbs, cheese, biscuit dough, mashed potatoes, or nothing at all.
Greg and I both agreed this soup was truly wonderful. His only complaint was that the base was very slightly grainy. It didn't separate or curdle, but it just wasn't that super creamy heavy-cream base you'd typically expect from a bisque or a chowder. It's a tough call, deciding how to make it next time, since that creamy base is so tempting if you can ignore the saturated fat / calorie factor. I think we finally agreed that it was worth the health benefit of cutting out the heavy cream in order to enjoy more of the flavor and fish, with a tiny sacrifice in texture. Myself, I think I'd even be happy with a clear broth base. Doing a quick calorie calculation, if you stretch this whole base to 8 servings, that leaves you with 540 calories, 29 grams of protein, and 35 grams of mostly unsaturated (and hopefully healthy-fish-oil) fat per serving. Let's just say, it could be worse, that's a lot of fat, but it's partly olive oil and fish - fats which I consider perfectly healthy and don't worry too much about.
If you're searching for something a little creamier, replace the half and half and fish stock with a total of 1 cup heavy cream plus roux. If you're looking for something healthier, get rid of the crust completely and make the base with pure fish stock (no roux or cream) - you can stir in the half and half after baking everything together so that the dairy won't curdle sans roux. The lighter version is about 420 calories, 26 grams of fat, and 27 grams of protein per serving (thank you fitday.com).
Creamy Seafood Chowder
About an hour and a half total prep time, which I split between two days (I stopped after cooking all of the vegetables)
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
3 medium shallots
1 cup white wine
6 medium creamer potatoes
2 medium carrots
3 medium celery ribs
4 cloves garlic
2-4 cups water
1 tbsp mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp salt
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
1 cup half and half
2 cups fish stock
1 cup Gruyere
1/2 cup Romano
1/2 cup Cheddar
1 tbsp white pepper
1 tsp cayenne
1/4 lb cod
1/2 lb medium sea scallops
1/2 lb crab meat (the good stuff)
- Add 2 tbsp olive oil to a dutch oven and place over medium heat. Chop the shallots and add to pan. While they begin cooking, chop the mushrooms and add to the pan. Watch the vegetables carefully as they begin to caramelize. Meanwhile, prepare the other vegetables:
- Slice the potatoes into wedges
- Slice the celery into 1/2" segments
- Slice the carrots into 1/2" disks
- Roughly chop the garlic
- When the onions and mushrooms are nicely browned (~10-15 minutes), deglaze the pan with white wine. Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom and continue cooking until pan is almost dry. Set aside mushroom and onion mixture in a bowl. Add potatoes, carrots, celery and garlic to the pan with enough water to cover completely, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Bring water to a rapid boil and simmer away water until the pan is nearly dry and vegetables are soft. Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients:
- Grate each of the three cheeses
- Soak sea scallops in milk
- Slice cod into 2" pieces
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
- Set aside remaining vegetables with onions and mushrooms. Add 4 tbsp butter to dutch oven with 1/4 cup flour. Melt the butter and flour over low heat and cook for an additional 3 minutes to form a roux. Whisk or stir in half and half and fish stock. Simmer for several minutes to thicken (do not boil).
- Finally, combine all ingredients (including fish) in the dutch oven. Cover with the pie crusts and cut slits to allow steam to escape. Place in oven for ~30-40 minutes, or until chowder begins to bubble through the slits in the crust. Broil for an additional 5 minutes to brown the top of the crust.
- Serve with fresh chopped parsley.