Anyone can be "the family chef". You just need good recipes and techniques! Chef Amy Fothergill shares her best recipes with you for quick and easy dishes with an emphasis on gluten-free.

Get information here about her cookbook, The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From Fish to Fish Chowder

You know the phrase, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"? Well, that's what happened last week. I had a busy schedule planned, company every night, and lots of cooking. On Tuesday, I had been to the harbor for fish (not realizing how crazy it could be and it wasn't even Christmas Eve yet!). I was planning a 7 fishes dinner for that night for some friends. But, in the middle of prepping, life came to a standstill. I needed to bring my 15 yr old dog Buster to the vet. An hour later, he was no longer with us.

When I have been faced with grief in the past, I cook. It takes my mind off of things and keeps me busy. I don't like to cry. The rhythmic chopping, thoughts of what needs to go into the saute pan and grabbing things from the spice drawer fill my head rather than the sadness I really feel. Later that night, it did hit me.

So our Christmas plans were turned a bit upside down. That night, I cooked some of the food intended for the dinner party for my family and some dear friends who helped us get through that rough experience. The next day, I was looking at a pound of cod ling, trying to figure out what to do with it.

A casual Christmas Eve lunch: fish chowder, steamed crab and garlic shrimp

My husband has always had a soft side for creamy chowder. And it's one of those things my kids really like. We often fight for the last spoonfuls. This seemed like a good use for the fish and I had most of the ingredients in the house. Fast forward about 45 minutes later (after I went out for clam juice) and we had delicious fish chowder. It made me happy to hear the yummy noises c0ming from everyone's mouths and it certainly kept my mind off of things for a few more hours. Before we finished, my husband snapped a few good photos. For whatever reason, I feel compelled to show you these creations rather than only write about it. I thought these really captured the day.

As with all of my recipes, I look at this as simple, tasty, and fairly healthy (I mean, I could have used heavy cream, right?!). I might have to search for some other options for clam juice besides Snow's (only because I'm not really sure about the quality) but in a pinch, it turned out just fine. Thanks for listening...

Amy's Fish Chowder
Serves 4 (or in our case 3 adults and 2 little ones)

2 tsp Olive oil
2 Tbl unsalted butter, divided
1/2 medium onion, chopped
Ground pepper
A few saffron threads
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed into bite size pieces
1 Tbl flour
1 bottle of clam juice (about 8 oz)
2 cups whole milk
about 3/4 lb of firm white fish, cleaned and cut into cubes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a medium sized pot. It's important to make sure there is enough depth so that the fish will be able to cook in the soup. Over medium heat, add olive oil, 1 Tbl butter and onion. Add a few grinds of pepper and the saffron. After a few minutes, add the celery, then the potato.
Tip: While the onion cooks, chop the celery. While the celery cooks, peel and cube the potatoes.

2. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, allow it to melt, then add the flour. Mix and cook for 2-4 minutes. Lower the heat a little and then add the clam juice (it's better if it's a room temperature) and stir to combine. Add the milk and stir. Bring it up to a boil and lower to a simmer.
Tip: While the soup is beginning to come to a boil, cut the fish.

3. When the soup is simmering, carefully add the fish into the soup and stir. Keep the soup at a simmer in order to cook the fish, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook the soup until it reaches the desired thickness. Remove a piece of fish and cut with a fork to make sure it's cooked. Check the potatoes for doneness as well. They should be soft but not mushy.

4. Serve with some crusty sourdough bread and a nice glass of white wine, like a chardonnay.

Tip: Before you add the butter and flour (roux), you can add white wine or sherry for more flavor (about 2 Tbl). Make sure it has evaporated before you add the roux.

You can also add other fish like crab, clams or shrimp. If you are adding cooked fish or seafood, for example crab, add at the very end.

Bacon is another good flavor in a chowder. Add chopped bacon to the onions and celery and cook until it is crisp. Reduce butter to only 1 Tbl (add with the flour only).

If you don't have saffron, just eliminate from the recipe. It's nice but not necessary.

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