February 29, 2012

The Maine Ingredient: Unadorned chowder lets fresh seafood flavors shine through

By Brooke Dojny

The stars in Maine's winter seafood crown – scallops, shrimp and haddock – swim in a milky, brothy chowder, unembellished with wine or heavy cream and tasting mostly of the fresh, locally caught fish from which it is made.

A new trick I learned from a recent Cooks Illustrated is to cut the salt pork into two large pieces (it's essential for flavor but not very good to eat), leave it in the chowder for the entire cooking time, and remove the chunks at the end.

The secret to chowder's depth of flavor lies in the aging or curing process, during which all the elements have a chance to meld and blend, resulting in a most successful and happy marriage.

MAINE SEAFOOD CHOWDER

Serve with oyster crackers, a lovely winter salad (recipe follows) and a homey dessert such as apple or cherry pie, or butterscotch pudding. 

Servings: Four to six as a main course, about 2 quarts

2 tablespoons butter

4 ounces salt pork, rind removed, cut into 2 pieces

1 large onion, chopped

2 cups bottled clam juice

1½ cups water, plus additional if necessary

3 cups diced russet or all-purpose potatoes such as Yukon gold

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 bay leaf

2 cups half-and-half

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried

1 pound haddock or other similar mild white fish, cut in 2- to 3-inch chunks

½ pound scallops, halved if large

½ pound shelled Maine shrimp

Melt the butter in a large soup pot, add the salt pork and onion, and cook over medium heat until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the clam juice, water, potatoes, salt, pepper and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender and starting to fall apart, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the half-and-half and thyme. Add the seafood, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook until  opaque, about 5 minutes. Remove the two hunks of salt pork. Cool chowder, uncovered, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, reheat gently (adjusting seasonings and adding more liquid if necessary) and ladle into bowls.

WINTER SALAD OF ORANGES, RED ONION AND OLIVES

To get the full visual effect of this salad, spread it out on a large platter in all its glory.

Servings: Four

5 seedless navel oranges

2 cups shredded Romaine leaves (cut crosswise)

1 bunch (preferably large) radishes

Half a red onion

¾ cup small imported black olives, pitted if you like

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and cracked or coarse-ground black pepper

Peel oranges and cut crosswise into thin slices. Spread lettuce out onto a large platter and arrange oranges over lettuce.

Thinly slice the radishes and arrange over oranges. Cut red onion into thin half moons and scatter over. Scatter with the olives. (Can be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated.)

When ready to serve, drizzle with the oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently "New England Home Cooking" (America Cooks, 2011). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.

 

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