When Renee and I set out to shop for yesterday's experiment, it was snowing and I was tired. It was late morning, but already I was dreaming of curling around a bowl of thick hot comforting chowder and then climbing right into bed. I've never made chowder, of any kind. Renee had a good idea of what we'd need, but as I started to press her about what exactly makes chowder chowder, she wasn't quite sure. The guy at New Deal Fish Market provided us with super fresh and, it turned out, exquisitely flavored shellfish and Hake, but suggested checking wikipedia when we asked about the definition of chowder. So we took our goodies home, chopped, sauteed, and simmered, and chatted idly about what to call our creation. Turns out, we seem to have made something that is quite between the two: some research by both of us (beyond Wikipedia) reveals that seafood chowder is a thick chunky soup with potatoes while seafood bisque is a smooth soup whose base is made by boiling shellfish in the shell. What follows has the light but creamy and complex quality I associate with bisque full of potato, vegetable, and shellfish chunks. It raises the bar on cozy slurping, like you might use a silver spoon and slip into silk pjs.
12 Littlneck clams
12 mussels 1/2 lb Hake or other solid white fish (cod, halibut), cut into 1/2" cubes
2 slices thick bacon, cut into 1/2" squares
1 onion, finely chopped
3 small-medium potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 carrott, cut into 1/2" squares
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup whole milk
In a large soup pot, saute the bacon until it renders (about 5 minutes). Remove and set aside, leaving the fat. Saute the onion in the bacon fat until it is translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the chicken broth, carrotts, and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the bacon and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender (15-20 minutes). While you wait, make sure the shellfish are all tightly closed or able to close themselves when tapped against the counter or thebottom of the sink, then scrub the shells very very well. When the veggies are tender, add the Hake. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until it's white all the way through. Add the shellfish. Cover and cook until all have opened, 8-10 minutes. Discard any that remain closed. Turn off heat. Add 1 cup milk and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Taste to see if salt is needed (it probably won't be, as the shellfish open they release saltwater...). Serve immediately. There may be a little grit at the bottom of the pot, but it's a small price to pay for the flavor of shell-cooked shellfish.
We served this with cheese biscuits and a beet-arugula salad, but since neither were perfect we're going to hold off sharing those recipes until we've had a few more goes at them...