Saturday, October 24, 2009
"Or perhaps it's bisque", I thought as I was pouring the cream into the mix. So, once the soup was simmering, I sought out definitions for both. Chowder generally refers to a chunky soup - frequently made with seafood and cream (especially here in New England) - and bisque is a thick soup with pureed seafood and cream, so I think we're safe in calling this chowder, for no seafood was pureed in the making of this dish. With that question answered, the only thing - or general thing - left to know about this soup is that it's very darned satisfying, and comes together quickly, though it does require a bit of time at the simmer. But it is fall, and so we embrace the simmer as part of our house- and heart-warming indoor activities (I find soup-making heartwarming. If you don't share my enthusiasm or my geekiness, it's okay, think of it as simply housewarming, then.).
A few weeks back, a friend had requested a recipe for red chowder. Mulling over my budget seafood options, I had considered mussels (this got an audible "blech" followed by nose-scrunching from my friend), as well as various white fish options, but finally came back to clams. As it turns out, I couldn't completely commit to the Manhattan-style of chowder - the pull of my New England roots simply wouldn't suffer the affront - and so that bit of previously mentioned cream found its way into the pot as well.
If you've been reading along for a while, you might have noticed that I don't do very many seafood dishes here. The first of two primary reasons is the generally prohibitive cost for someone of my economic status (which is, um, not rich. At all.), though I do realize that fishing warrants the cost of the product, as it is an intensive method of hunting (or farming, depending). The other factor in the dearth of seafood recipes here is the fact that much of the ocean's stock of fish are endangered due to over-consumption. Atlantic cod is generally not a good choice, so it had been eliminated from my white fish consideration before such consideration even began, and U.S. farmed tilapia and catfish both seemed not quite right - to me, anyway - for chowder (there's that New England provincialism creeping in again). Happily, clams are a good choice for sustainable seafood eating, and I was able to purchase a pound of chopped, frozen clams (I know, I know, it isn't normally my way, but I was also going for convenience as well) for $5.99. Not a bad price for a responsible seafood selection, I thought.
JR and I happen to live in an area of New England that is heavily influenced by Portuguese cuisine, as there are many Portuguese fisherfolk who settled along the coast of Southeastern Massachusetts. Along with their fishing skills, they also brought their tradition of cured meats, so, in homage to their traditions, into the chowder went a pound of Portuguese pork sausage called chouriço (pronounced tsur-eetz locally. Definitely not pronounced chore-ick-o anywhere, fyi.). Its smoky flavor contrasts nicely with the clams and the sweet corn, but if you aren't able to locate chouriço, go ahead and substitute another pre-cooked pork sausage, such as Andouille, in its place.
Creamy Red Clam Chowder:
Serves 6 to 8
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Vidalia onion (or other sweet onion, approximately 3/4 pound), coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound chouriço, chopped into spoon-sized cubes 1 pound (16 ounces) frozen chopped clams, thawed, including juices
1 pound red potatoes (approximately 2 medium), chopped into spoon-sized cubes
2 cups corn kernels
1 stalk celery, halved lengthwise, then sliced 1/4-inch thick
16 ounces clam juice
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 pint light cream
freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped parsley for serving
Melt the butter with the oil in a large stockpot (at least 6-quart capacity) over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and saute until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the parsley and crushed red pepper flakes, then add the chouriço, and stir to combine with the vegetables, cooking for 1 minute before adding the chopped clams, corn, potato, and 1/4-inch pieces of celery.
Pour in the clam juice, the crushed tomato, and the cream, and give it all a good stir. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and cook until the potatoes are cooked through, 45 to 50 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve it forth, ideally with some crusty bread or corn bread on the side and a sprinkle of parsley atop each serving.
As you might be aware (ahem), I am on a budget, so while this soup is chunky, there are a lot of other items in addition to the inexpensive-for-seafood-but-expensive-for-my-general-use clams that contribute to that chunkiness. For even at $5.99 per pound, two pounds would be a budget-buster for me. If you'd prefer more clams, you can add another pound (plus juices), but also have another 8 ounces of clam juice at the ready in case you need to thin the soup. Not surprisingly, this soup benefits from standing for a day, as many soups do, so it's a perfect candidate for making a day ahead of the planned serving day - it only gets smokier and richer tasting.
Estimated cost for the pot o' chowder: $23.10. The butter costs 35-cents for 1/2 stick. The olive oil is 24-cents. The onion is approximately 3/4 pounds, and Vidalias cost 99-cents per pound at my favorite farm stand, so that's 75-cents. The carrot cost 7-cents, the celery for the whole dish cost 40-cents. The parsley would be no more than half of a purchased supermarket package costing $1.99, but you should know that it grows well, even in northern climates, and has survived the killing frost that all but the beets, lettuce, and leeks succumbed to last week at my house. So I think of it as free, having dodged the frost bullet, and all. The crushed red pepper flakes cost 3-cents, the clams were $5.99 (you know this already, but I have to list it out here to keep everything in order). The chouriço was $3.99 per pound, and the two links we received were just over a pound, so that cost us $4.14. The corn was 2/3rds of a bag costing $1.29, so that's 86-cents. The potatoes cost 99-cents. The clam juice was fancy, and cost $2.69 for 8-ounces; we used two, so that's $5.38. The tomatoes cost $1.50 (regular price, even), and the cream cost $1.40. Even at the heftier-than-usual price tag, the soup costs a mere $2.89 per serving (for 8, and $3.85 per serving for 6, though I must remind you - this soup is chunky and therefore filling. As chowder should be.)
Dinner tonight: Please see the above Creamy Red Clam Chowder description. Plus some of that crusty bread that was mentioned. The bread costs $4.29 for 3 small loaves (they're pane francese "pillows" from Olga's in Providence, RI). Let's pretend we eat an entire pillow. That costs us $1.43, plus a bit of butter - we'll say around 18-cents' worth, and our grand total is $7.39. Pretty good for a weekend dinner, methinks. And a couple of weekend lunches. And a weekday one as well (did I mention eight servings? Just checking.)
For more information on sustainable seafood choices, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium's website, where you can type in the name of the seafood in question and learn whether it is a good option, and also what better options exist.