Cook's Illustrated (January/February 2012)
New England fish chowder. Just the mention of it evokes blustery winter evenings, salty sea air, crackling fireplaces and nubby wool sweaters.
And while it's barely dipped below 45 degrees here all winter, we thought the idea of a big steaming bowl of fish chowder sounded extremely comforting and tasty for the beginning of February.
This recipe from Cook's Illustrated seeks to change that. It uses milk instead of cream, but mostly it uses water. The result is a broth that's smooth and milky, not throat-cloggingly thick and overly rich.
The most surprising thing about this dish, though, is how quickly it comes together. Fish chowder seems like something that should simmer away for hours, and this version certainly tastes like it's been slow-cooked. But you can easily have this dish on the table in under 45 minutes, and the majority of that time is devoted to boiling the potatoes.
We absolutely loved this chowder! The flavors are clean, bright and fresh -- when was the last time you tasted a chowder like that? It's hearty and satisfying without being too rich, and the delicate fish flavors shine through very nicely.
One note on the recipe's use of salt pork: We actually can always find some at our local grocery store, but we'd forgotten to get any for this recipe. In its place, we used some large chunks of bacon ends from Broadbent's Hams in Kentucky. We were careful about how much salt we added to the dish, figuring the bacon was already pretty salty. The result was A-OK.
Topped with chives and a handful of oyster crackers, this New England fish chowder was just about perfect. Our only wish was for the mercury to drop so we could actually do the nubby-sweater-by-the-fireside thing. But we'll take what we can get.
Serves 6 to 8
Haddock, or other flaky white fish, may be substituted for cod. Garnish the chowder with minced fresh chives, crisp bacon bits, or oyster crackers.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions, cut into ½-inch dice
4 ounces salt pork, rind removed, rinsed, and cut into 2 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
5 cups water
2 pounds skinless cod fillets, sliced crosswise into 6 equal pieces
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, salt pork, thyme, ¾ teaspoon salt, and bay leaf; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add water and bring to simmer. Remove pot from heat, gently place cod fillets in water, cover, and let fish stand until opaque and nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using metal spatula, transfer cod to bowl.
Return pot to medium-high heat, add potatoes, and bring to simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender and beginning to break apart, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk milk, cornstarch, and ½ teaspoon pepper together in bowl. Stir milk mixture into chowder and return to simmer. Return fish and any accumulated juices to pot. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove and discard salt pork and bay leaf. Stir gently with wooden spoon to break fish into large pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.