Already it is February 1 and Winter Storm Orlena has just brought bitter cold and a few inches of snow to our farm in south central Kentucky and is now barreling up the east coast as a classic nor’easter. While most of us in the South can look forward to an earlier spring than most, today is a reminder that winter is still very much present.
Whether you have a woodstove or a cookstove, soup is an easy thing to make, especially in quantity. I always make enough to freeze, or to have a few extra quarts to give away.
Here is a chowder recipe that can be easily varied. As a long-time New Englander, I learned the fine, but easy art, of making chowder — a thick and hearty milk-based soup. Chowders are perfect with a loaf of crusty bread (or better yet, oyster crackers). In about an hour, from start until serving, you will have a big vat of chowder to feed many appetites — and likely leftovers. Chowder is even better the next day, once the flavors have had a chance to meld.
Make sure you have chicken stock on hand — in your pantry or freezer — as well as potatoes, onions, carrots, spices and seasonings, and you have the making of almost any soup. Keep some bacon, corn, and assorted seafood in your freezer and you’re really good to go.
Hearty Seafood Chowder
- 12 oz. (3/4 pound) diced bacon (we prefer using smoked bacon and usually our own)
- 1 heaping tbsp. minced garlic
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped (you can add a bit of red onion, if desired)
- 1 cup celery, chopped (include some leaves)
- 1 cup diced red bell pepper (OPTIONAL)
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
- 4 large baking-sized potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 quart fish or lobster stock (if not, chicken stock will do)
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
- lots of fresh ground pepper
- liberal dashes of sweet Hungarian paprika
- 3/4 cup flour, or more, depending on how thick you'd like it
- 6-8 cups whole milk (you could use other kinds of milk but whole works best)
- 2-3 pounds assorted fresh (or uncooked and previously frozen) seafood in any combination: scallops, shrimp, tilapia, cod, clams, lobster, etc.
- 1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half, if you must)
- On medium high heat in a Dutch oven, large skillet or heavy-duty stock pot, cook bacon, with garlic, until almost done and starting to crisp up a bit. Stir frequently and do not drain!
- Add onions, celery, parsley (and red bell pepper, if desired) and cook until translucent.
- Add salt and pepper. Stir.
- Add diced potatoes. Stir for several minutes.
- Add the flour (3/4 cup if you want a slightly thicker chowder) and stir well.
- Add 1 quart chicken stock and stir until thickened and bubbly.
- Add paprika (about one large teaspoon).
- Set to low, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are done, but not too soft (about 15 minutes).
- Transfer your chowder "roux" to a large 2-gallon kettle.
- Heat on low, with 6-8 cups whole milk until just before boiling (do not boil!). Stir well as mixture will start to thicken somewhat from the roux.
- Add the seafood, chopped into bite-sized morsels (frozen is fine and you don't have to thaw it unless shelling the shrimp: the cod or tilapia will likely flake on their own).
- Cook on low, stirring frequently, until nicely heated and seafood is cooked.
- Shortly before serving, add heavy cream and stir in.
- Serve with homemade croutons, a good crusty bread, or old-fashioned oyster crackers.
I like to turn off the kettle when the chowder is done, cover it, and take it off the burner. This will keep it warm until supper but will assure that the soup doesn't boil. You can also freeze this. It makes almost two gallons, too, so perfect for a crowd or for a stretch of easy meals.
Recipe Variations for Corn, Clam and Fish Chowder and Oyster Stew
The wonderful beauty of this chowder is, with a few minor changes, you can readily make it into a Corn Chowder, Clam Chowder, Fish Chowder, or Oyster Stew (or any number of things: mushroom, hearty vegetable, etc.) Here's how:
- For Corn Chowder, use 1 quart chicken stock and eight cups canned, frozen or fresh corn (or a combination) in place of seafood;
- For Clam Chowder, use 1 quart clam broth and 1-2 quarts fresh shucked clams (or canned);
- For Fish Chowder, use 1 quart fish stock and 2 pounds chopped up fresh (or frozen) fish (Cod works best as it holds up well in the soup).
- For Oyster Stew, use 1 quart fish stock (which can include the oyster "liquor") and 1 quart of fresh, frozen or canned oysters. Oyster Stew uses whole oysters without the potatoes and bacon etc. and Oyster Bisque is when the oysters have been cooked in their own broth, and milk, with a bit of seasoning, and then put through a blender: we always had this for the soup course at Christmas Eve at my grandparents' in Akron, Ohio. Wonderful food memories there!
And remember, you can take the girl out of New England, but you can't take New England out of the girl!