Seafood Chowder has always been a family favorite, though I don’t get around to making it often because it is a little involved. I passed this recipe on to a friend of mine (a devout non-cook) who conscripted her son to help make it. During the holidays he asked me why I would go to such lengths as to pick the leaves off of fresh thyme for soup—evidently, that was one of the jobs he was assigned. My response, “because I like to eat good food”.
I suppose for a twenty-something guy it would seem far easier to just open a can of Progresso when the urge for chowder hits. For me the real stuff is well worth the effort; for others, easy will always trump delicious. As it goes with food and fashion—to each his own.
For those willing to pick a few thyme leaves, this recipe is well worth the effort. Tender fish, smoky bacon, and cream deliver a soup with soul and substance and may make a few uncanny converts in the process (pardon the pun). The silky cream base cradles the seafood and vegetables in a subtle herb blanket, satisfying chowder cravings to the last bread-soaked drop.
Yield: 6 quarts
3/4 pound bacon — cooked, chopped
2 medium leeks — finely chopped
1 small yellow onion — finely chopped
1 cup celery — finely chopped
3 cloves garlic — finely chopped
9 small red potatoes — unpeeled, cubed small (1/2″ cubes or smaller)
1 1/2 cups clam juice
1 teaspoon salt — to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh thyme — pull leaves
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon liquid smoke flavoring
2 cans baby clams — retain and strain juice
1 pound white fish (halibut or any dense fish) — cut into bite sized chunks
1 pound shrimp — cut into bite sized chunks
4 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon Beef Base
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 cup chicken broth — as needed for soup consistency
Cut bacon into 1/4 inch slices and cook until well done and crispy. Remove bacon from pan and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Retain bacon fat.
Prepare all other ingredients before starting soup. Drain and rinse clams, retain juice and strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth to remove any sand or debris; add to other clam juice.
Place rendered bacon fat in a soup pot, sauté onions, leeks, garlic, and celery until tender. Add potatoes, clam juice, enough broth to cover potatoes, dried and ground thyme, and 1 tsp salt, black and white pepper. Simmer uncovered until potatoes are slightly tender.
Stir in milk, cream, shrimp, white fish, clams and enough of the remaining chicken broth to reach desired consistency. Add fresh thyme and bouillon; simmer for 30 minutes to cook fish and allow flavors to meld. Adjust seasoning to taste.
To deepen flavor and thicken soup, add the following roux: (preferred, but optional)
In a cast iron skillet, heat butter on medium heat until bubbly. Stirring constantly with a whisk, add flour and cook until a light caramel color is reached. Reduce heat and add chicken broth slowly while stirring with a whisk; mix well. Heat soup to just below boil and add roux to soup in small amounts; being sure each addition dissolves well.
In place of the roux, the soup can also be thickened by puréeing a portion of the soup in a food processor or thinned with milk or chicken stock.
Serve with homemade dinner rolls.
NOTES: To increase the vegetables, add 1 large celery root and 2-3 parsnips in place of some of the potatoes; cut into the same shape as the potatoes and cook as directed.