Pass along the art of chowder

Posted Sept. 14, 2010, at 6:27 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:52 p.m.

Three wonderful Maine ingredients — potatoes, lobster and corn — all available in early September make this fine version of chowder. It is a bit luxurious, of course, but perfect for a snug supper for special company or a special occasion. Come to think of it, serving it can make the occasion special.

If you make chowder regularly, take the time to show some young person how to do it. It is a pity what passes for chowder these days. There is a prevalent and erroneous idea that chowder must be thickly gluey to be properly thick chowder. Few understand the principle that chowder is thick with ingredients but that the broth is not thick and saucelike. Pass along the information that chowders can vary in their contents, too, whatever good kind of fish you have, haddock, cod, pollock, hake, even salmon, plus shrimp, clams, lobster, or corn or a combination of them to make a seafood chowder.

You can assemble the following recipe just as you would a plain fish or clam chowder, starting with a bit of  salt pork chopped finely and fried to which you add onions, potatoes, raw corn, and last the cooked lobster that you have extracted from the shell. If you are avoiding salt pork these days, then use butter or a vegetable oil. Old time Mainers, at least my neighbors, use evaporated milk for chowder. It lends creaminess without cream, though you may be happy to use cream or half-and-half for your chowders.

My basic chowder is built with one medium potato per person, plus a third of a pound or so of fish per person, and one medium onion for every two people. A small piece of salt pork, about an inch square, finely chopped, per person is sufficient, or a tablespoon of oil or sometimes bacon fat. The fat from pork or bacon gives a nice flavor, which is why I prefer it.

Some like to cube potatoes, but I belong to the slicing school of thought, and I usually slice the potato so that I have a thin edge and a thick one. The thin edge cooks off and helps thicken the chowder.

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Corn and Lobster Chowder
Yields 3 servings
1 – 2 inch square of salt pork, finely chopped,
or a couple tablespoons of butter, vegetable oil or bacon fat
2-3 medium potatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
Kernels cut from two to three cobs of corn
Meat from two lobsters, more if you have it, large pieces cut into bite sized bits
Water or fish stock
14-ounce can of evaporated milk, or up to 2 cups half-and-half or whole milk

Fry out the salt pork until you have crispy bits which you can remove and set aside or leave in. Add the onion, potatoes, and corn in layers. Add water or stock until you can barely see the liquid through the ingredients. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender then add the lobster and milk or half and half. Heat until the milk is hot through, but do not allow it to boil. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Chowder is usually better if it stands overnight in the fridge and is eaten the next day.

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