When in comes to soups, I like them thick and chunky, and rustic — the kind you almost need a fork to eat with. This simple chowder, a deconstructed version of the New England classic, fits all three criteria but is also elegant enough to serve to guests. Like most simple dishes, the success of this one begins with using fresh, local ingredients from both sea and earth, with the flavors deepening and becoming concentrated through oven-roasting.
Oven-Roasted Fish Chowder
1/4 pound salt pork or bacon, cut in 1/4-inch dice
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced (mince leaves for garnish)
1 1/2 pounds all-purpose potatoes, peeled, and thinly sliced (4 cups)
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
1 large bay leaf
3 cups fish or chicken stock, or bottled clam juice
3 cups whole milk or half-and-half
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 pounds haddock or other lean white fish, in large serving pieces
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Cook salt pork in Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp and fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove salt pork bits and set aside.
3. Add onion and celery to pan drippings and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.
4. Layer potatoes over onion mixture, sprinkle with thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Add bay leaf, and pour in stock, milk, and wine. Cover Dutch oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until potatoes are nearly tender.
5. Arrange fish over the potatoes, gently pushing them down into the cooking liquid. Top the fish with bits of butter (optional) and finish baking, uncovered, until fish is just cooked and potatoes are tender, 10 to 20 minutes.
6. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasonings. Use large spoon to transfer the fish, vegetables and broth to shallow soup bowls, try to keep fish in large pieces. Garnish with reserved salt pork bits and minced celery leaves. Serve with crusty bread.
— Adapted from “The New England Cookbook” by Brooke Dojny
Notes: This recipe is easily halved for 1 pound of fish (in photo above). Except for a few of the seasonings, most of the ingredients are available from local sources. Since locally grown celery can be more difficult to find, I keep a patch of cutting celery in the herb garden.
Seacoast Eat Local will be at the Fishtival this Saturday, September 25, at Prescott Park in Portsmouth. Come visit us — we will have this as well as other recipes, plus a handout on where to find local seafood!