I don’t really want to admit my inspiration for this chowder. The thing is, I’m all for celebrity chefs, televised cooking programs and the like. I also understand that it’s a hot business that requires a well defined image and personality and a willingness to often appear arrogant and ridiculous. But there’s a certain ginger-haired celebrity chef who just irks me. I’m sure he’s a model human being in real life, but I find his casual arrogance less than appetizing.
It’s for that reason that I find it so vexing that this morning, while perusing the idiot-box, the first espresso of the morning in hand, I was somehow inclined to watch an episode of Throwdown with the Chef Who Shall Not Be Named. He and his opponents engaged in a battle for a winning Westcoast Chowder. My delight was obvious when he lost the cook-off, but I was definitely sold on making some chowder of my own.
Despite the star’s generally irritating persona, I did agree with a principle of chowder that he and his opponents shared: not using a roux to thicken it. So often chowders are thickened almost beyond reason and good judgement, but my personal preference is for a thinner, lighter, though still creamy broth. Not only do you end up with a less gluey bowl of chowder, the large-ish pieces of seafood stand out more distinctly in a thinner, more elegant broth.
A brief shopping trip, a few pantry staples and an hour or so of cooking later and this seafood stew was ready to go. We’ll be dunking in whole wheat baguette but the classic soda crackers wouldn’t be half bad either.
Feeds 6 hungry people, possibly with leftovers.
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large carrot, diced small
2 ribs of celery, diced small (include some of the leaves if you have them)
4 strips of bacon, chopped small
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup clam juice/nectar
4 cups of water
2 medium red skinned potatoes, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 cup of frozen corn (fresh would be great if you had it)
1 lb red snapper fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cans of baby clams (and the liquid they are packed in)
1 lb of prawns (I used the size that comes 31-40/lb)
1 C. half-and-half cream
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley to garnish
Prep the vegetables and aromatics by getting all the chopping out of the way and mixing up the seasonings.
Add the chopped bacon and bay leaf to a pot over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently. Allow the fat to fully render and the bacon pieces to get deeply browned. Don’t be alarmed by how dark the bottom of the pot will be, all that will lift up later when the liquids come in.
There’s something odd and funny about chopping bacon on a chicken shaped cutting board. I’m sure there’s a “That’s what she said!” joke in there somewhere …
This is nothing but a gratuitous bacon shot.
Back to business…
Once the bacon is cooked, discard the bay leaf and add in the celery, carrot, shallot and garlic. Stir well and allow the vegetables to soften. Add the spices and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, clam nectar and water. Add the chopped potato and corn; allow to simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through.
Prep the fish by chopping it into bite-sized chunks. Keep it somewhat rustic, you want to be able to see the pieces in the finished chowder. Likewise, get your shrimp ready (de-vein or shell them if necessary – I left the tails on because they are pretty).
When the potatoes are cooked through add the clams and the juices they were packed in, the fish and the prawns. Add the cream. Bring the whole pot to a boil and immediately turn down to a low, slow simmer. Let it cook gently so the flavours can develop, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve piping hot with plenty of chopped fresh parsley and crusty bread for dunking. Enjoy!