Friday, December 12, 2008

Peace Like a River Fish Chowder

One of my favorite books is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. It's a story about a crime, the road, the trials a family faces, and miracles. It takes place in Minnesota and South Dakota in the wintertime--the perfect setting for chowder. My recipe was inspired by this line:

"Supper that night was Swede's favorite, a red-potato chowder Dad mixed up with hunks of northern pike. Seasoned with vinegar and pepper this was our king of soups; a person didn't even want to put crackers in it."

I've kept the recipe humble and hearty, as would befit the story. You can doctor it up as you like (though I've probably included too many herbs as it is), but believe me when I tell you that it is irresistibly good even in its simplest form.

2 lbs red potatoes, skin-on and scrubbed
1 lb white fish
4 Tbsp. butter or bacon fat
1 small onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1-2 qts water or fish or chicken broth
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp dill or dill seed (optional)
lots of black pepper
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional but encouraged)

To speed this up you can pre-cook your potatoes or use leftover ones, but starting from raw is fine.

In a heavy soup pot, cook the onions and celery in the fat until they are soft and browning on the edges. Add the thyme, dill, and some black pepper and stir. Add the potatoes and cover with water or broth to the level you want your soup at, and salt. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are very soft and falling apart.

Using a blender or masher, whomp the potatoes until they are at your desired combination of puree and chunks. Add the fish and simmer for ~5 minutes, or until the fish is cooked and flaky. Break it apart with your stirring spoon and a fork. Add the vinegar, parsley, more black pepper, and salt, and cook for 2 more minutes. Delicious with bread and butter.

Some tips:
  • You can substitute the brine from some dill pickles for the vinegar.
  • This is a great way to use canned fish. The recipe is best if at least some of the fish is fresh, though. Most recently I made it with 10 oz fresh cod and a small can of salmon.
  • The vinegar is essential. Before you add it the chowder tastes ho-hum, but after you add it, it's world-class.
  • Amounts are approximate. You can make this as potatoey, brothy, or fishy as you like.

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