Spicy Fish Chowder

When I was in high school, I had a best friend whose family always treated me as if I were one of their own.  They were always so generous with me.  I remember one time specifically when we went to a high-end seafood restaurant in Boston called “The Four Seasons” – it couldn’t have been cheap.  Here, I had my first experience with a truly amazing fish chowder.  I can still remember how it tasted.  Over the years, I’ve worked on recreating this dish and I feel that finally I’ve come up with something worthy of sharing here.  Enjoy!

Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Level: Easy
Cost: About $4.00 per plate
Serves: 6

Ingredients

  1. 8-12oz bacon, sliced into 1 inch pieces
  2. 4 stalks celery, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  3. 1 large yellow onion, diced
  4. 3 jalapeño peppers, diced
  5. 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  6. 1/2 cup white wine
  7. 4 cups reduced sodium (or homemade) chicken stock
  8. 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  9. 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  10. 1 teaspoon paprika
  11. 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)
  12. 1 generous pinch saffron (approximately 0.7 grams/0.2oz; Trader Joe’s sells just the right amount)
  13. 2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (approximate)
  14. 3/4 – 1 cup heavy cream
  15. 1 lb Firm fish: Tuna, mahi mahi, swordfish, etc
  16. 1 lb White fish:  Cod, talapia, snapper, etc.
  17. Shellfish:  Mussels, clams, shrimp, clams
  18. Optional for roux, if you like a really thick chowder…
    1. 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    2. 1/4 cup flour

Cook’s Note:  For the seafood (ingredients 13-15), variety is key.  Shoot for one firm fish, 2 white fishes, and at least two shellfish offerings.  Frozen fish is fine but canned won’t work.  Also, salmon doesn’t work as it has a distinct flavor that will overpower the rest of the dish.

Instructions

  1. Sauté bacon over medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crispy, stirring occasionally.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the grease
  2. Lower heat to medium-low and add celery, onion and jalapeños.  Sauté until onions are translucent and celery and jalapeños are soft.  As the vegetables sweat out their moisture, scrape up any brown bits left behind by the bacon.  5-7 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and sauté with vegetables until fragrant, 1-2 minutes (do not brown)
  4. Add white wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up remaining brown bits from the bottom
  5. Add oregano, thyme, paprika, cayenne, stir to combine
  6. Add chicken stock and stir to combine
  7. Add saffron and stir again
  8. Add potatoes, stir once more, cover, and bring to a boil
  9. Uncover, reduce to a simmer, and continue to cook until potatoes are soft and liquid is reduced by 2/3 (you want it fairly thick), perhaps 45 minutes.  If potatoes aren’t getting soft but chowder is thickening to quickly, reduce to a simmer and cover until potatoes are cooked through
  10. Add cream and continue to reduce until desired thickness is achieved, 10 – 15 minutes.  You want it to be the consistency of gravy; it gets there when it gets there, but chunky is good.
  11. Once desired consistency is achieved, add the reserved bacon and seafood, reduce to a simmer, and cover.  Simmer covered for 3-5 minutes.
  12. Off the heat and allow residual heat to finish cooking seafood through, 10 minutes
  13. Optional, if you like a really thick chowder:  Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a small saucepan and slowly whisk in the flour all while continuously whisking.  Incorporate the flour and continue to stir, until the mixture becomes a light blond color.  Remove from heat and continue to whisk vigorously.  After 1-2 minutes, add 1/4 cup of the soup mixture to the roux and continue to whisk vigorously (did I mention to whisk vigorously?  Don’t stop whisking!)  Once the soup mixture is incorporated into the roux, add the contents of the sauce pan back into the chowder and stir.  It will thicken tremendously.
  14. Serve with fresh parsley and oyster crackers if desired

 

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