Chowder is one of those flexible, easy to make, economical American dishes that can accommodate whatever you have at hand.
Basically a hearty soup with stock, onions and sliced or chopped potatoes plus milk or cream; whatever you add after that is up to you.
A friend who summers on Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine, makes it with “whatever fish my husband caught that morning”. In her wonderful “Loaf and Ladle” cookbook, the former Exeter, New Hampshire café (now sadly closed) owner Joan S Harlow suggests vegetable chowders - fresh corn, succotash, celery - plus clam and corn, shrimp, a mix of fish and shellfish, or the classic New England clam chowder. The stock can be fish, chicken or vegetable, depending on the add-ons. Cream or just milk are purely personal choices.
My vintage Fanny Farmer cookbook gives slightly different recipes for old fashioned fish chowder, Connecticut fish chowder (with tomato juice instead of stock), Manhattan fish chowder (with tomatoes), New England clam chowder, and quick clam chowder.
"James Beard's American Cookery" lists lobster chowder and a razor clam chowder called “Old Western Clam Chowder”, along with the classics.
This raw, rainy weekend, a warming, substantial fish chowder had great appeal, as did the smoked haddock I spotted on the fishmonger’s tray.
Luckily I had fresh fish stock in the freezer (fish heads and bones are free from my fishmonger), potatoes and onions, so this is what I made:
Smoked Haddock Chowder with pancetta and creme fraiche
ALL YOU NEED IS: (remember, amounts do not need to be precise, this is a flexible dish) serves 4 (or 2 with leftovers the next day)
3 cups fish stock (or more, if you prefer a thinner soup)
1 or 2 medium potatoes peeled, sliced, then cut into small chunks
1 large long shallot or medium onion, finely chopped
250gr (about 1 lb) smoked haddock (not dyed)
70gr (about 1/4lb) sliced smoked bacon or pancetta, diced
crème fraiche or sour cream
salt, pepper to taste
parsley to garnish
Fry the bacon/pancetta until crisp and brown, put aside.
In a saucepan, cook the chopped shallot/onion gently in the bacon/pancetta fat until translucent. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the fish, cut into 2 or 3 inch chunks, and simmer gently until it flakes with a fork. With a slotted spoon, remove the fish to a plate and flake into small pieces, checking for any bones.
Add chopped potatoes to the stock and onions and simmer until just cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return the flaked fish to the pot and allow to simmer very briefly until hot.
Ladle into bowls and add a large spoon of sour cream or crème fraiche to each bowl. Sprinkle with bacon/pancetta and parsley, Serve.