I made a large pot of fish chowder last week when it was rainy and not at all hot here (it’s been quite the opposite weather-wise this week). I was inspired by this post and recipe by Laila. Making this chowder reminded me of the many years that I lived on the New England sea coast. I used to live in Rhode Island, it’s where I went to grad school and that’s where Thomas and I met. I lived in the southern part of the state, only minutes from the beach, for almost 10 years before coming to live in the Rheinland region of Germany with my husband and our daughter in 2010. I miss Rhode Island a lot, I miss the ocean and the wide openness that is never far from you when you are there and the joys of being so near to the sea with its beauty that always beckons to me winter through summer. I miss the sandy beaches and the rocky shores that line the southern coast of Rhode Island, swimming in the surf in the summer, walks along the smooth beaches and the rocky shore lined paths which dip down to wavy rough seas in the fall and winter and seeing families of seals regularly coming back to Narragansett Bay to winter over there at the end of every year, basking in the sun as they repose themselves on the harbor’s flat rocks and swimming in the bays warmer waters, taking up residency along the harbor coast right up until late spring. And of course I really miss the wide assortment of fresh fish and molluscs that are available year round there. The best chowders, however, are only available during the summer months at the various fish shacks and dives along the coast and boast the option of a thin and clear, flavorful broth or a thicker and creamier, white broth chowder. This all brings me back to “Clam or Cod?” a passage from one of my favorite chapters in the book Moby-Dick that I first read when I was in high-school and makes me long for a bowl of chowder every time I read it:
[And so it turned out; Mr. Hosea Hussey being from home, but leaving Mrs. Hussey entirely competent to attend to all his affairs. Upon making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said- “Clam or Cod?”
“What’s that about Cods, ma’am?” said I, with much politeness.
“Clam or Cod?” she repeated.
“A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?” says I, “but that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?”
But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple shirt who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing but the word “clam,” Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out “clam for two,” disappeared.
“Queequeg,” said I, “do you think that we can make a supper for us both on one clam?”
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey’s clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word “cod” with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.]
– Herman Melville
Adapted from Table of Colors
4 Tablespoons of Butter
1 1/2-2 pounds of Cod/Salmon/or other boneless fish, I used a mix of both Salmon and Pollock
4-6 medium sized waxy Potatoes diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 large or 2 medium sized onions diced
1 large Leek washed and cut into rounds
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into cubes
2 cups (400 ml) of Fish Stock
2-3 cups of Water
3/4-1 cup of Dry White Wine
Chopped fresh Chives and Dill (about 1/4 cup of each)
Salt and Black pepper to taste
In a large soup pot or dutch oven saute the onions, leek, carrots and celery root in butter stirring well until the onions soften and become translucent. Add stock and potatoes and enough water so that the vegetables are just covered. Simmer with a lid on until the vegetables are almost tender but not quite done yet. Add wine, salt and pepper to taste and return to a simmer for about 5 minutes then add the uncooked pieces of fish and submerge them into the soup and cook for at least 5 minutes more or until the fish is cooked through. Adjust the seasoning, stir in the fresh herbs and serve immediately.