Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chowder House Rules

Okay all you chowder heads, 'tis the season to begin delving your spoon into a bowl of chowder, or in perfect Yankee slang tradition, 'chow-dah.'  Last night I made a sublime seafood chowder, complete with shrimp, scallops, calamari and crab, plus a homemade stock made from the local clam steamers Brian prepared for dinner the night before - so take note, recycling can be delicious!  To start tonight's dinner spread, I've made a butternut corn chowder, which will be a nice first course to a dinner of assorted grilled sausages, homemade corn bread, a salad of greens with a few fall delicacies and a perfect seasonal pumpkin ale.

Chowder, by definition, is a thick and very chunky soup.  The term 'chowder' is derived from the French term 'chaudiere,' which was the appellation of the cauldron-like pots used by fisherman to prepare seafood stews from their freshly caught bounty.  Thus, traditionally, a chowder was usually made from seafood. One of the most popular chowders enjoyed today is clam chowder, such as the traditional thick, white, creamy New England clam chowder.  We also have the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder, and now in some local seafood restaurants here, one can order a bowl of Long Island clam chowder, which is actually a combination of the aforementioned two, because we Long Islanders just want it all, don't we?

Seafood is no longer a strict requirement on the shopping list for making chowder.  Again, a chowder is a thick and chunky soup.  There are vegetarian chowders, such as the one I've prepared for this evening, which is made from pureed roasted butternut squash - the thickening ingredient - plus corn and potatoes, the requisite chunks.  Visits to the local farm stand as the autumnal harvests appear on the scene are an inspiration to create steaming pots of chowders as the temperatures begin their descent.  Butternut squash, potatoes and corn are all ideal ingredients for a perfect chowder.

I cannot conclude this piece without a word of warning.  We have all seen those perfectly lined up cans on the supermarket shelves with their picture perfect labels boasting the contents of 'chowder.'  Do yourself, your family and all of your combined states of health a favor: leave them there to continue collecting dust.  If you live on Long Island, take a drive to the sound, go for a swim, imbibe some of the salty sea water.  You'll take in less salt and it will be a lot cheaper.  Or, you could simply make your own chowder.  I made the seafood chowder last night in no time flat.  I melted some butter, added some chopped carrots, onions and celery, plus some corn, sauteed that, added some stock and some potatoes, simmered until the potatoes were starting to get tender, threw in all of the seafood, simmered another few minutes until that was cooked, stirred in some cream and some parsley, and voila!  Nothing to it.  At least you won't experience difficulty with when trying to read those above ingredients.

I leave you now with my recipe for chicken corn chowder.  Most chowders containing meat or seafood can stand alone as a meal with only a simple salad.  This recipe is a great way to utilize some of that leftover roasted or grilled chicken.  My flavor weapon in this is liquid smoke.  You can find liquid smoke in either the spice and seasonings section or in the meat section of a well-stocked supermarket.  For the stock, if you haven't any homemade stock on hand, an acceptable substitute would be a quality all-natural stock from the supermarket.  I like Kitchen Basics, it comes in a perfectly sized four-cup carton, and the ingredients include only what you would use yourself and nothing that you wouldn't if you made your own.

Chicken Corn Chowder
1 pound cooked chicken, coarsely shredded
1/2 pound bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 cup heavy cream

Fry the bacon in a stock pot over medium heat.  Once the bacon is cooked, remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels, set aside.  In the rendered bacon fat, saute the onions and pepper until the onion is translucent.  Add the flour, cook and stir for about two minutes.  Stir in the stock, then add the potato, corn, thyme, liquid smoke and the chicken.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for fifteen minutes or until the potato is tender.  Return the bacon to the pot, stir in the cream and simmer for another five minutes.  Serves 3.

As you slowly begin to retire your barbecue grill and pull out the stock pots from their summer sojourn in your kitchen cabinets, let your creative juices start simmering as you create your own fall chowders.  Just about any combination can work as long as you choose fresh, quality ingredients and the result is a thick, enticing, steaming potion fully loaded with chunky culinary gems to tantalize your appetite.

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