Monday, January 19, 2009

Warmth and Cheer in Winter: Part 1

Thursday night, on my way home through the foggy evening, knowing I could stay home, all on my own, 'til Saturday noon-ish, I stopped by the grocery store and stocked up on soup mixings (hey, that was a pun almost worthy of Miss Cavendish!). I made up two different batches to alternate through the next two days, and I thought you might like these quick-and-yummy recipes.

My first, a longtime favourite, is a recipe for oyster chowder but any other seafood could easily be substituted in, depending on availability. We get lovely local oysters here and they're at their best through the winter months. I picked up a small container, about a cup/half-pint, which contains 5 or 6 good-sized oysters. I knew I had onions, a carrot, and a potato at home already and a can of baby clams, but I made sure to pick up a fennel bulb, and a pint of 2% milk.
Once I got home, I melted a knob of butter, then looked at it, thought a bit, and added another (one to two tablespoons). Into that, at low-medium heat I added one medium onion, chopped, the diced fennel bulb, and a chopped carrot. After they had sweated into an aromatic softness, I scattered enough flour over to soak up the butter (I generally match butter amount to flour and it seems to work) and stirred it into the pot contents. Next, I went to grab a bottle of white wine for the cup or so that usually constitutes the first liquid I add to this chowder. There was none! Too bad, but not a catastrophe. I debated using some vermouth, but instead just went with some chicken stock I had on hand -- I've even made this with bouillon cubes if I have to.
Keeping the heat low to medium, I stirred the liquid gently, working it in so that the flour would thicken up the mix without yielding lumps. At this stage, I usually add about 2 cups of whatever liquid -- stock, wine, clam nectar, and the nectar from the oysters. I often add a bay leaf, altho' the fennel on its own adds enough interest that you don't really need much else. Then I add the chopped potato, turn the heat to whatever keeps it just simmering, just below a boil, and cook 'til the potato is softened.
Now all that's left is to add the milk -- between one and two cups, depending what seems right to replace the evaporation and to yield the consistency you want -- and the oysters. At this stage, you should watch carefully. You want to bring the chowder up to a nice, hot temperature that will firm the oysters right up, but you don't want the whole to boil (unless you're nervous about seafood, in which case you'll be willing to compromise taste/texture for security -- that's not me!)
I've doubled this recipe, added prawns, shrimp, clams, and smoked salmon, and served it to guests with good bread and lots of white wine, but I'm also very happy on my own with a bowl of this simpler version. I find the 2% rich enough, and also like it with 1%, but Pater would enjoy it even more with full-fat milk or even cream -- and he doesn't put on a pound!

Let me know if you try this or if you already make a similar chowder. And later this week I'll give you my second winter-warmer, a curried pumpkin soup.


  1. OMG!!! That sounds amazing. Add some great bread and good wine and you have a perfect meal. It sounds delicious!!!!!!

  2. Sounds delicious. I await the curried pumpkin soup recipe with bated breath. I even have the pumpkin - but please don't let it be a recipes that calls for canned pumpkin because you can't get that here.

  3. Wow, sounds wonderful! I'm looking forward to the curry-pumpkin soup.

  4. LBR: I love it for simple entertaining -- the kind where you really want to visit, not be stuck at the stove -- which is still indulgent, especially if you put a rich mix of seafood in.
    Lesley: No, I made this from a whole pumpkin (a wee one) altho' I have used canned in a pinch.
    Nancy: coming soon . . .


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