My blogging has been a bit dense lately, like those oyster crackers we are supposed to put into chowder to thicken it. So let's talk about chowder.
I know of two types: quahog chowder and fish chowder. I like them both, and I make a decent fish chowder. I've never made quahog chowder and David Churbuck hasn't published his recipe. Since he is pretty serious about quahogs and clamming strategies, I would bet his quahog chowder is good. I haven't seen any recipes for quahog chowder that made me want to try. I know a good quahog chowder when I eat one, so I guess I could develop a recipe if I had the time.
I make a fish chowder any time of the year. It's rich and decadent, and it's a primitive meal, with a simplicity forced on clever colonial cooks by lack of ingredients. Potatoes, fish, milk, salt pork. Stuff that would be available in an 18th or 19th century New England coastal kitchen. Today we add other stuff, but not much beyond those four ingredients. Those settlers would recognize this chowder.
This is a thin chowder, not like the thickened ones you get at Cape Cod restaurants. They're good too, but not right for a fish chowder.
1 lb salt pork
milk or half and half. You choose.
clam juice in a bottle. Get two.
at least 2 lbs cod
Quantities don't matter (much) in this chowder. You'll want to make more rather than less, so it's going to be 2 big onions, 4-8 baking potatos, two bottles of clam juice.
As to fish substitutions, don't. Shop like Julia Child: If they don't have good fresh cod, make something else based on what they have that is good.
Carefully chop the salt port into a very small dice. 1/4 inch is right.
In a big tall pot, try out the salt pork at low heat. It should be golden brown, and when it is it's done, there will be a lot of fat in the pot. Ignore other recipes that call for discarding all but 2 tablespoons of the liquid pork fat; keep it all. Take the golden brown salt pork bit out of the fat with a slotted spoon and put all of it on paper towels to drain. Reserve it..
Rough-chop the onions and saute them in the pork fat until they are getting close to soft and translucent. Don't brown the onion.
Skin the potatos. Cut them into similarly sized cube like pieces. Not too small, but small enough to fit on a soup spoon with some fish and onion. Bigger is better than smaller for the potatos Add to the pot. Add the clam juice and enough water to cover the potatos. Simmer for 8 minutes or so until the potatos are tender but not falling apart.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add some thyme leaves. Let it sit for an hour for flavors to incorporate.
Add enough milk to fill the pot, leaving enough room for the cod. You shouldn't need much, a cup or so in a big pot. Reheat. Add the cod (whole filets, no need to cut them up). Cover, simmer until cod is just done.
Adjust seasoning and serve in big bowls with a pat of butter. Use your serving spoon to break off big chunks of cod for each serving.
Sprinkle some of the reserved salt pork bits on top and dig in.
You'll need to adjust all the quantities based on the size of your pot, but you can do that.
Here's a good book about cod, by Mark Kurlansky.