Chowder can hold its own for a meal

April 23, 2014 

Shrimp and corn chowder is even better with a corn and potato fritter. JULIAN BRUNT/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD

A good chowder is a simple and delicious one-pot meal. It is almost certainly a culinary discovery from New England, but it has long roots with the French and English settlers, many who were fishermen, and Native Americans.

The term itself comes from the French chaudière, a caldron in which fishermen made their stews fresh from the sea, according to the "Food Lover's Companion."

Whatever the source for the term, by the early 1800s chowder recipes were starting to show up in American cookbooks -- another example of how good recipes hang around for a long time.

We most often think of chowder as being a seafood-based dish, but it vegetable-based versions are popular as well.

In a good chowder you will normally find pork, onions, potatoes, stock, milk, spices and herbs, but the possibilities are vast. The most famous variations are New England clam chowder, which is cream or milk based, and Manhattan chowder, which has a tomato base.

At the base of a good chowder is a great stock. If we are going to make a seafood chowder, then we should start with shrimp shells and a few pieces of fish. A stock pot bubbling away on the stove is a good opportunity to get rid of some leftovers; add almost any vegetable you've got, the green part of leek or a carrot or two, but certainly include onion, celery and bell pepper. If you've got a leftover roast chicken, this would be the perfect time to put it to good use; it will make a fine chicken stock that is always a welcomed addition.

Season aggressively, but if you are using fresh herbs, don't add them until the very end. Remember, the stock will be strained of all the solids, so overcooking is not a huge worry.

SEAFOOD STOCK

Shells and heads from 1 pound of shrimp

1/2 pound fresh fish (snapper, grouper or trout will do)

1 rough cut onion

1 chopped carrot

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 rough cut bell pepper

3-4 cloves chopped garlic

2-3 slices smoked bacon or 1/2 cup chopped ham

Black peppercorns

Red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

Oil as needed

Add oil to a large stock pot, add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes and give it a good stir. Add the ham or bacon first, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the vegetables, the bay leaves and a tablespoon of black peppercorns. Sauté for 10 minutes, then add the shrimp shells and the fish.

Lastly, add a quart or so of cold water, bring to a low simmer and

cook for 1 hour.

Taste occasionally and re-season as necessary. When the stock is as delicious as you can make it, strain the solids out and proceed with your chowder recipe, or refrigerate until ready for use.

If you want to keep it longer, consider reducing the stock by 3/4, pouring into ice cube trays and freezing. This way you can take a few cubes at a time for use and don't have to thaw the whole thing.

SHRIMP AND CORN CHOWDER

1 pound large shrimp

1 cup diced potato

1 cup fresh sweet corn

1/4 cup diced smoky bacon

2-3 cloves chopped garlic

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 pinch red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup seafood stock (substitute chicken if necessary)

Sauté the bacon until done but not too crispy. Remove and set aside. Quickly cook the shrimp in the bacon fat (remove and add olive oil if you are watching your weight), no more than 2 minutes.

Remove the shrimp, add the bacon back and the garlic. Turn up the heat and add the potatoes, sauté for 3 minutes, add the corn and cook 3 minutes longer.

Reduce the heat, season aggressively, add the bay and thyme and then the cream and stock. Simmer for at least 15 minutes. Taste, re-season and simmer again until the flavors are holding hands and the potatoes are done.

Add the shrimp and serve immediately.

SIMPLE CRAB CHOWDER

1 cup white corn (fresh, canned or frozen)

1 cup crab meat

1-2 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup milk

1 cup clam juice

1/4 cup green onions

1/4 stick best quality butter

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pinch red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons canola oil

Add the oil to a good size pot, heat to medium, then add the garlic and pepper flakes. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Cooking the red pepper in the hot oil wakes it up and makes it pungent; try it with any dried herb or spice.

Add the corn and milk and simmer for 5-6 minutes, but don't allow to foam; remove from heat and cool. Add to a blender and blend smooth, return to the pot, add the clam juice and green onions, season then taste and re-season as necessary.

Add the crab and cook just to bring it up to serving temperature.

Remember, this chowder is not supposed to be thick. If you insist, mix a teaspoon of cornstarch in cold water, add to the chowder and return to a simmer. This will thicken it up just a bit.

Substitute shrimp, clams or fish for the crab if you like.

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