Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Curse of the Nightowl
What’s cooking? New Jersey Fish Chowder

We spent most of last summer trying to remember on a daily basis to pick up a copy of The New York Times. It had seemed too complicated to try getting one subscription in Texas and another in New Jersey. Besides, the minimart in our NJ building sold papers, so all we had to do was remember.

This summer, remembering how hard that remembering part had been, I bit the bullet and opened a new account in Jersey City, under my husband’s name. Delivery went swimmingly until we popped down to Texas for a week, and when we got back, suddenly we were getting two copies of the paper every day.

“I hope we’re not paying for these,” my husband said. Hmmm. I was afraid we might be, but you know how eager you are to tackle what you think might be a complicated problem? That’s how eager I was to solve The Mystery of the Two Papers.

Finally, this week, I gave in and called.

“Hello,” I said to the very courteous Times rep who identified himself as Willard. “I’m trying to figure out why I’m getting two papers.”

Willard spent a couple of minutes verifying addresses and account numbers, and then he said, “It looks like you went online to put a vacation hold on your Texas subscription, Mrs. Hilton.”

“Why, yes, I did,” I said, impressed with how much Big Brother is actually watching me. “I just find it easier than calling because I’m often up late and the web is open 24/7.”

“Mrs. Hilton,” continued Willard, “It looks like you made an address change for the Texas subscription, so what you’re getting now in New Jersey is both the Texas subscription and the New Jersey subscription. But I’ll fix that and credit your account for the duplication. And Mrs. Hilton, I think you should try going to bed earlier – it says here you made this change at 4 a.m.”

Ah, the night (or would you call that morning?) before my flight. I thanked Willard and promised not to rearrange my life at that hour again.

And yet here I am, at 2:47 a.m., typing out this post. It’s not that I’m not tired. I’ve been to bed, closed my eyes, and willed myself to fall asleep. And then, a sentence came into my head. Nothing major, but one I liked well enough that I thought, I’ll just remember that to use in a post tomorrow. Hah. An hour later, I was still composing off and on in my head, and sleep was nowhere in sight. So instead of sleeping, I’m going to tell you about the very memorable fish chowder I cooked the other night.

I had what I call a heavy pound of cod – which is to say probably a pound and a few ounces – from the farmers’ market. I’d watched Julia on her new app as she warbled her way through her recipe for bouillabaisse, and it looked wonderful. But bouillabaisse is a Mediterranean fish soup – think tomatoes and a clear broth – and I was missing tomatoes among other important ingredients. It was too late to go back to the store, so instead I headed to epicurious.com and browsed through the fish chowder recipes – think potatoes and creamy broth. I have specific criteria for what I think of as a winning epicurious entry: at least 20 comments, at least 90% of the commenters would make the dish again, and an overall rating of at least 3 out of 4 forks.

The one I settled on had been reviewed by 114 cooks, with 96% vowing to make the dish again, and a 4-fork rating. But again I didn’t have all the right ingredients.

So I made my own, using elements of both recipes, and was thrilled with the results. It’s creamy but not heavy, with nice hearty chunks of both fish and potatoes. Julia said it’s best to have a mix of lean fish, so I added flounder I’d frozen from the week before. That Julia really knows her stuff. Then I replaced one of the onions with a leek, included clam broth (because I had it), made a few other minor alterations, et voilà. So here it is.

New Jersey Fish Chowder

Serves 6-8.

For the soup:
4 ounces bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium leek, washed well and sliced in quarters lengthwise (white and pale green parts only), then across in ½-inch pieces
1½ teaspoons dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme)
2 bay leaves
2 pounds all-purpose potatoes (like Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into spoon-sized (bite-sized?) chunks
2 cups bottled clam juice
3 cups chicken stock or fish stock
2½ -3 pounds lean white fish (preferably thick, but I used flounder, and it was fine), filleted and cut into pieces about 2 inches square
1 cup heavy cream (more if you like)
salt/pepper to taste

For the garnish:
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons minced chives

In a 6-8-quart soup pot, cook the bacon on medium-high heat until crisp, then remove it to paper towels and reserve it for the garnish. Lower the heat under the bacon fat to medium. Add the butter, onion, leek, thyme, and bay leaves, and sauté 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft but not browned.

Add the potatoes, clam juice, and stock, and bring the soup to a low boil. (Add more stock if needed to cover the potatoes.) Cook 10 minutes, or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife. Season well enough with salt and pepper that you don’t have to season further after you add the fish.

Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and add the fish. Cook 5 minutes, then cover the pot and turn off the heat. You don’t want to overcook the fish. Wait 10 minutes and add the cream, stirring carefully with a wooden spoon so as not to break up the fish.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.[Kitchen Goddess note: The fish will continue to cook in the 10 minutes, so leave that pot alone.]

Kitchen Goddess note: This soup is best if allowed to sit another 20-30 minutes after you finish cooking. Many of the comments on epicurious preferred it the next day. We loved it both times. If you plan to serve it the next day, let it cool uncovered before refrigerating. And do not let it boil when you reheat, or the cream will curdle.

Garnish with the bacon crisps, parsley, and chives. And as Julia would say, “Bon appétit!”


  1. sounds delish. and i'm posting this at 1:34 am. old habits die hard :)

  2. Look forward to trying this. Or, even better, eating some of yours.
    I was up at 5:30 with a perfect sentence. But at least I didn't try to change any addresses online...