Living on the east coast of Canada, there is an abundance of fresh, tasty seafood. Chowder, when made well, is a wonderful way to show off local flavour. First, a note about chowder: it is not vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free, or kosher. For those with “allergies” it could produce full-on anaphylaxis, making it the soup equivalent of a loaded gun. Don’t let any of this detract you: well-prepared chowder is a gentle yet well-meaning fuck you to gourmands in need of mettle.
This recipe is based on the simple premise that water is the enemy of taste, so as little water should be used as possible. Stock, broth, vegetable liquor, and dairy are all better alternatives. If you are at all like me, this means that you start by making lobster stock from the heads and shells of about a half dozen crustaceans. Like any fish stock, lobster stock is made very quickly (simmered for less than 30 minutes) and it has a rich taste and built in saltiness. Boiling the heads makes the most of the lobster tomalley and provides a nice base for chowder or bisque. Once the simmering is complete, the stock must be strained through a fine sieve.
- About 4 cups lobster stock
- 1/2 preserved lemon (rind only) diced
- 2 lb cubed potatoes
- 1/2 c. butter
- 2 onions, diced
- 2 ribs of celery, diced
- 1/2 c. flour
- 3 lb mixed seafood (haddock, scallops, shrimps, salmon, lobster, etc.)
- 1 quart milk
- 1 pint heavy cream
- cayenne pepper
The peeled and cubed potatoes are boiled in the stock with the diced preserved lemon and then set aside. The rest of the chowder is made rather like white sauce with a variation on a roux. In a large pot, melt the butter and cook the onions and celery until soft. In the meantime, coat the seafood in the flour. Add the fish to the pot and cook until the flour starts to brown with the butter. Next add milk and carefully scrape the bottom of the pot to get any bits of baked-on flour. Almost immediately, this will start to thicken. Be gentle stirring so as not to break up the pieces of fish. When the thickening has stopped, add the potatoes and stock. Next, add as much cream as your conscience allows. Make sure not to overcook.
Finally, check for seasoning. It may need salt and pepper. It will definitely need a very small amount of cayenne pepper. One of my cooking techniques to impress guests is to add things in very small amounts and claim that it makes a difference. In this instance, the modicum of heat from the cayenne does make a very important difference.
Enjoy, ideally with fresh biscuits, friends, and family.