A No Recipe Recipe yields a Chowder so good, I had to share the recipe I made with it.
Once a week, Sam Sifton of the New York Times publishes what he calls a “No Recipe Recipe”. There is no set of ingredients or steps in making the dish. It’s an invitation to improvise in the kitchen, to use what’s on hand. It’s not quite as loosey-goosey as it sounds. The No Recipe does contain some instructions. What temperature the stove should be, when to season it, and what to season it with are included. There are even substitutions for missing ingredients – in this case, fish stock–and towards the end the timing of the most essential ingredient, the fish itself. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful this dish was. It was creamy-rich, brimming with flavor, combining the earthy goodness of root vegetables, sweet corn, and the undeniable brininess of the sea and saltwater. It was so good, that I was very glad that I had actually written done how I approached the dish and what I used to make it—the quantities, the cooking times—I’ve incorporated them into the final recipe.
Where Chowder originated may surprise you.
Certainly in the United States, New England is heralded as the center of chowder-making. In Boston, a recipe for Chowder was published years before the nation’s first cookbook ever appeared. On September 23, 1751, the first and oldest-known fish chowder “receipt” was published in the Boston Evening Post. Chowder became a mainstay in the Northeastern states. Along with fish, Chowder makers began adding clams and shellfish. They were easy to find and could be simply dug up from the shore. As the country moved westward to the Pacific Ocean, the fishermen followed and recipes for chowder came with them. But Americans were late to the party. The earliest arrivals to our shores didn’t share Native Americans’ passion for fish-eating. It took the Pilgrims a long time before Clams were acceptable. On record is that in the 1620s the Pilgrims fed clams and mussels to their hogs explaining that the two were ‘the meanest of God’s blessings.
The Origin of Chowder is both French and English and pretty well universal.
The root of the word Chowder is from the Latin word calderia which was a place for warming things and later came to mean cooking pot. In France, the pot became a chaudiere and in English a cauldron. A simple dish of vegetables or fish stewed in a cauldron became a ‘Chowder”. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word Chowder to the fishing villages on both sides of the English Channel. In France’s Brittany and England’s Cornwall when ships returned from the sea, every village had a large Chaudiere waiting for a portion of each fishing boat’s catch, to be served to the villagers at Celebrations for the safe return of the vessels. If truth be told, there isn’t a sea-bound country on earth that doesn’t have a variation of fish stew that is a close or distant cousin of Chowder. Here is the recipe for the one we made.
Fish Chowder from Sam Sifton of The New York Times
A creamy-rich taste of the sea in every bite of this American classic.
- 2 Strips Thick-Cut Bacon, diced
- 1 celery stock, halved vertically and diced
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 4 Yukon Gold Potatoes peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
- 1 Cup fresh or frozen Corn kernels
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 tsp. Smoked Paprika
- 2 cups Fish Stock*
- ½ Cup Dry White Wine
- Bay Leaf
- 2 Cups Heavy Cream
- 1 lb. Cod or Haddock cut into 1-inch chunks
- *While Sam Sifton claims you can substitute water or white wine for fish stock, I would highly recommend either buying stock bought Fish stock or using canned Clam Juice to give the briny flavor essential to the dish.
- Step 1 Add the diced bacon to a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat until it gives up some of its fat.
- Step 2 Add the diced celery, onion, carrot, and potato to the bacon and cook until the onions are transparent. Stir in salt and Pepper and Smoked Paprika*
- Step 3 Add the corn.
- Step 4 Add the fish stock, wine, and, if necessary, water until the potatoes are swimming in liquid. Add the bay leaf. Turn the heat to simmer. Allow the chowder to cook until the liquid is reduced by a third and the potatoes can be pierced with a paring knife.
- Step 5 Add 2 cups of Heavy Cream and allow it to heat and thicken slightly.
- Step 6 Add the fish chunks, stirring them in gently.
- Step 7 5 minutes later and the Chowder is ready to serve along with some crusty bread, salted butter and perhaps a green salad.