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My Very Own Fish Story: Seafood Chowder
Categories: Chowder, Fish, Pork, Potatoes


The Soup That Got Away

The soup this week is Seafood Chowder, but I’m not exactly sure why.

Clam chowder is a great soup and definitely belongs in the culinary canon but I don’t have any particular emotional attachment to the stuff.  My brother was the big chowder fan growing up, but outside of lunching on cans of Snow’s every once in a while, the soup didn’t make a big impact on the rest of us.

Maybe it’s because clams weren’t readily available for soup making.  Perhaps it’s because soup making in my formative years consisted mainly of opening up cans of soup (see my chicken soup, I’ve still got to do a straight tomato soup.)

Seafood was definitely available.

I have vivid memories of the fish market down at the Redondo Beach pier and lowering drop lines down into the water when I was still in single digits. Later my brothers and I would catch opaleye (perch) off the rocks below Haggerty’s mansion of Surfin’ USA fame.  We would also occasionally fish for bonito in King Harbor (a great fight even with our twenty pound test) and later still my brothers would go out in a friend’s boat and catch the occasional halibut, including a thirty-two pounder that was lost to a freezer mishap.

So we ate a fair amount of seafood.  The Pacific was right there, after all.  Our meals consisted mostly of steaks and fillets with the rare shellfish dish thrown in.  I also have some vague recollection of my mom making bouillabaise or paella or jambalaya or something like that, but I wasn’t a real seafood lover at the time, so it didn’t make much of an impression.

And again, no chowder, which means that my thoughts about the dish aren’t really anchored down.  I have feelings about corn chowder, but those are mostly through the lens of my mom’s schoolgirl memories.  For clam chowder?  Nothing.

Note: Before I continue, I want to make clear that I’m talking about New England clam chowder here, not that nonsense they make in Manhattan.  I’m willing to admit that New York has a special gift for pizza and cheesecake, even massive loan fraud, but that red stuff they put clams into is not chowder.   It’s not even cioppino.  Not to knock cioppino or anything, but you get the idea.

I guess it all comes down to a problem of supply.  You can get clams outside of New England, but you have to special order them.  They’re not front and center in the fish section of the local market.  I discovered that when I tried to make clam chowder earlier.  My uncle had requested I make a chowder back in the spring, but he had to settle for corn.  This time he’ll have to settle for general seafood. (Sorry Don!)

My seafood chowder starts much like my corn chowder did, with a béchamel (see Corn Mother). Although instead of making the roux with butter, I use bacon fat.  Then I add milk, half & half, an onion, bay leaves (not a complete clouté) and nutmeg.  Once the sauce is done, I stir in sliced celery, diced potatoes and seafood (I found a nice medley of frozen shrimp, scallops and calamari rings at Trader Joe’s), simmer for a while, let it relax and it’s done.

It turned out great although I should have heated it up a little more before service. Still everyone had nice things to say about it.  Specifically, my wife loved it, one daughter liked it but didn’t eat much of it and the other said it wasn’t her favorite but she liked it.

High praise indeed.

One day I’ll feature a real clam chowder on these pages, for now, though, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Seafood Chowder
(serves 6-8)
6 oz bacon
4 T flour
6 cups milk
2 cups half & half
2 bay leaves
½ onion
pinch nutmeg
Salt & pepper, to taste
8 oz celery, sliced
1 lb, potatoes, peeled & diced
1 lb, assorted seafood pieces (fresh or frozen, you know what I used)

  1. Fry bacon in a 3 quart stock pot and set aside.
  2. Stir flour into the rendered bacon fat and cook over low heat for 5-7 to make a roux.
  3. Add the milk, half & half, onion, bay leaves, nutmeg and seasonings and set it to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Now that you’ve made a béchamel, it’s time to turn it into chowder.  Add celery, potatoes and seafood, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Let the soup cool for an hour or two before serving.  This gives it a chance to really thicken up.  Remember to remove the onion and bay leaves before service.
  6. Serve with crusty bread or, if you’ve got it, inside a nice sourdough bread bowl.  I never got to have soup in a bread bowl growing up and it sent me down this crazy road.  Don’t let that happen to you.

Image Credit: Empty Sourdough Bread Bowl, A still from the Clip Art files.

This is my first entry into the long dormant seafood category.  Let me know how it turned out.  Actually, it might be better better if you sent photo documentation.  Anyone can talk about fish chowder, it’s not the same thing as doing it.  I’ll be reading and responding, and would love to hear.

4 Comments to “My Very Own Fish Story: Seafood Chowder”

  1. Paul says:

    Next you have to do a soup that is based on the bacon wrapped filet of sole dish that was (other than tuna casserole) our mainstay seafood dish growing up… Good work young man!

    • pcandres says:

      Scary. I think I’ll have to find a way around that. Tuna noodle, however. Maybe that is something I can tweak into soup-dom. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Titania says:

    Well this time I’m not going to comment on your soup for known reasons but Dave tells me it wasn’t Surfing Safari, it was Surfing U.S.A. The Haggerty Mansion was also in Frost and Nixon (or vice versa).

    • pcandres says:

      Oops! Well that was a typo. Thanks for the observation and the comment.