As with so many dishes, everyone has their favourite version of today’s recipe post and my favourite is a classic, The New England Chowder, with mussels or clams and potatoes and finished with cream, there is the Manhattan Chowder is a rich tomato based soup with more than a hint of spice and many people like Corn Chowder. There are a myriad of recipes and extra ingredients including but not exclusive to, seafood, broad beans, salami and even rum.* The chowder is thought to have started life in in French fishing boats plying their trade on the Atlantic coast and was thickened with Ships Biscuits. This tradition is still carried on as chowders are often garnished with salted crackers.
In fact, in the sixteenth century, in southwest England, chowder was a term used for a fishmonger and by the eighteenth-century cookbooks included chowder recipes. So which ever seafarers brought the recipe to New England the original dish was more likely to be a stew of freshly caught fish and ships rations, potatoes and salt pork all boiled in sea water.
By the time the dish was eaten in Moby Dick, ‘ small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with pounded ships biscuit, salted pork ….the whole enriched with butter ’, it seems to be altogether more refined and something we could put on a table today. By 1894 a recipe published by Charles Ranhofer, a chef at the famous Delmonico’s** restaurant could be used now containing clams, pork, potato, tomatoes, and onion, flavoured with parsley and thyme and garnished with crackers. Delmonico’s is the home of the New York or Spicy Manhattan Chowder.
*Rum is an ingredient in Bermuda Fish Chowder the national dish of Bermuda
**Delmonico’s is actually the name used by a number of restaurants that have given us the Delmonico Steak, a cut of rib eye, the wedge salad and possibly invented Chicken a la king and Lobster Newberg.
While many of the chowders I’ve tried have been made with clams ( you can use tinned or frozen cockles make a good alternative ) mussels are just as good. I like to spoil my guests add some juicy prawns for good measure.
Mussel, Salt Cod and Prawn Chowder serves 4 to 6
500 g firm waxy Potatoes, washed, peeled and diced
2 large pieces of Salt Cod, skinned
200 gr Pancetta lardons
500 ml pouring Cream
350 ml of quality Fish Stock
125 ml quality Dry White Wine
1 White Onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large Carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 Leeks, washed and finely diced
2 sticks of Celery, washed and finely diced
A good pinch of freshly ground white Pepper
Bouquet garni; Celery stick, Bay leaf, Parsley, Thyme and Tarragon
50 gr unsalted Butter
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
125 gr cooked peeled cocktail Prawns
1 kg scrubbed Mussels
Freshly chopped Parsley
Soak the cod overnight, changing the water at least a couple of times, remove any skin and dice. Place the pancetta into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and sauté in the butter until cooked through and just starting to brown. Add all the vegetables, excluding the potatoes, and cook, without colouring, for five to ten minutes. Pour in the wine and the fish stock and add the pre-soaked salt cod and bouquet garni tied with string.
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and cook on a gently simmer for thirty minutes then add the chunky diced potatoes and the cream to the pan and simmer for twenty more minutes until potatoes are soft. Stir regularly to prevent the chowder sticking. Remove bouquet garni, add the lemon juice and correct seasoning ( the soup is likely to be sufficiently salty because of the salt cod ).
In a little water steam the mussels for two to three minutes until open, remove and cool. Strain out the cooking liquor and add to chowder. You can shell the mussels in you prefer them that way. To serve reheat with cocktail prawns and mussels, cooking for three to four minutes to totally reheat the seafood, stirring to prevent the chowder sticking to the pan. Ladle carefully into a bowl and top with broken salted crackers and chopped parsley.