There are lots of “Fish Chowder” recipes and many are “good,” but very few are “memorable!”
It’s taken me 30 year’s to perfect my recipe for a “memorable Maine fish chowdah.” I’ve given the recipe to my children, but now – for the first time – I’m sharing it with my website followers. Although fish chowder is, I think, best in the fall or winter, it’s really a treat any time of the year. We usually, wait until the price of “Fresh Haddock” is significantly less than it usually is. Also, “fresh Haddock” is the only fish worth using!!! Some people use Cod – some even use Cusk or Hake. All of these are a poor substitute for “fresh Haddock.” In fact, if you can’t get fresh Haddock, don’t bother to try my recipe. Other quality fish (e.g. Sole, Flounder, Tilapia etc. are too fragile and will break apart. Halibut, Swordfish and the like are too hard). Tuna fish is never used.
Ingredients: Should feed 6 people of 4 very hungry people. Great the next day!
1 (or 1 ½) lb. fresh Haddock fish. Smell it before you buy it. It should have no fishy smell. Wash in cold water and dry with paper towels. Place in refrigerator until ready to add to cooking pot.
1 lb. of salt pork slab. You want it as “free of any meat veins” as possible. Chopped bacon can be used, but it’s a poor substitute.
1 qt. of regular whole milk (or 8 ozs. of whole milk and 8 ozs. of ½ and ½ can be used if you like it to be a little richer). If you have a Lactose inbalance, use “Lactaid Whole Milk.”
2-3 large Maine/Idaho Brown Russet potatoes cut into ½ – ¾ inch cubes. I like them unpeeled, but you might prefer to peel them. Some people like “Yukon Yellow” potatoes.
1 large onion (I like sweet white onions like Vadalia) chopped into fairly large pieces – not minced.
½ – ¾ lbs. of the best salted butter you can find.
2-3 T of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to sauté the onions.
1 T of cracked black pepper
¼ t of Cayenne Pepper (Optional)
1 T of Paprika
1/8 of a bunch of fresh parsley (I sometime add some fresh Cilantro also)
Chop onions into medium sized pieces and sauté in large pot (I use a 7.5 qt stew pot available at (http://www.amazon.com/Granite-Ware-7-5-Quart-Stew/dp/B001FXDZK8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308165368&sr=8-1) or something similar. You can use a 4-5 qt. commercial roasting pot/pan with a cover. Suffice to say, you will be happier with something “bigger” than you might think. Cook with the olive oil on med-high heat until onions are translucent and beginning to brown. Remove and set aside.
Cook potatoes in enough water to cover them. I start with slightly-salted cold water and cook on high heat until it boils. Turn down the heat to a simmering boil and cook without a cover until testing the doneness with a fork tells you they are firmly-tender, but not overcooked. Drain off water, BUT save about a cup of the “potato water” (Remember to add it to cooking pot when you add the fish). Set the cooked potatoes aside.
Slice up salt pork into ¼” pieces (just use white-fat salt pork, no pieces of bacon meat). Place in skillet and sauté until the pieces are all browned, but don’t overcook. Use a spatter screen to reduce jumping hot fat. Pour off melted fat, BUT save about 3 Tablespoons of it to add it to cooking pot when you add the fish for flavor. Remove and let it drain on a paper towel. You will serve these with the dinner for people to sprinkle on top of their chowder.
Place the sautéed onions and the cooked potatoes in your stew pot. No heat yet.
In a 2-3 qt. deep pot, add the milk. Turn heat to full high. You are going to make “scalded milk” (something most people don’t know how to do – but it makes the dish!). With a large rubber spatula, stir it slowly and CONSTANTLY until it starts to just to want to boil over. Turn off the heat quickly. Pour scalded milk into stew pot (over the onions and potatoes). Add Cayenne pepper, salt and pepper (to taste) – better to like people salt their own after it is served rather that salt the whole of it. Add Paprika and sticks of butter. Carefully, lay the fillets of fresh Haddock on the top of the mixture so they float on top of the mixture. Remember, to add the potato water and the melted fat now. Cover and cook or about 20 minutes on low-medium heat. Don’t let it boil over.
When ready to serve, add fresh chopped parsley (and cilantro).
Serve with the best warmed French Bread Baguettes that you can find. A great chilled premium beer goes very well with this dish served in a Pilsner glass.
This recipe can also be used to make “Maine Clam Chowder.” Be sure you find sandless clams (Read my article on Maine Steamers for more on this). You should buy raw “Steamer Clams” and shuck them yourself- being sure to remove the “neck sweaters.” You eat the whole clam. Do not chop up. Add to mixture at the same place the fish (above) it added.
“Living in Maine will make you a happier person!”