Friday, October 5, 2007

Corn and Cod Chowder

You can’t make this chowder in a rush. The trick is to do everything slowly and pay attention to all the fragrant details that go into it. It is full of subtle, wonderful flavors and varied textures. Flakey cod, tender sweet potatoes, thick cream, crunchy fresh corn, toasted cumin, bay. Start the onions cooking in the late afternoon when the light is at its most beautiful. Listen to familiar music. Move quietly about the kitchen. The soup will soak up everything you do, your movements, your laughter, the muscles you use to chop and stir. This recipe makes a big pot, so make sure to invite a lot of folks over. And remember that recipes are merely templates. I am only writing down exactly what I did, which made one of the most delicious chowders I’ve ever had. You can follow this recipe exactly and see if it works for you, but always trust your instincts.

4 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 cups chopped onions
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. paprika
1 fresh cayenne pepper
2 small to medium heads garlic, minced, plus 5 cloves, minced
3 Tbs. white flour
2 cups heavy cream, plus 2 Tbs.
4-5 cups water, plus ½ cup
2 bay leaves
2 large sweet potatoes, diced
kernels from 6 ears corn and 3 of the shaved cobs
2 large leeks, sliced
1 tsp. dried sage
1 ½ pounds fresh cod, cut in large chunks
salt and pepper to taste

1. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry skillet until they are lightly browned and releasing a wonderful aroma. Grind them in a coffee or spice grinder. Add the paprika to the ground spice and set aside.

2. In a dry skillet, char the cayenne pepper until its skin is blackened. Let cool and the peel of the skin. Mince the pepper, including the ribs and seeds, and add to the spice mixture. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards!

3. Heat 2 Tbs. butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the chopped onions and the spices. Cook over medium to low heat until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook another 10-15 minutes. If the onions are sticking and burning, add some olive oil to the pan.

4. Whisk in 2 Tbs. of flour and cook for a few seconds, making sure to constantly whisk so the flour doesn’t form lumps. Add the cream, a little at a time, whisking as you pour. Then add the water, a cup at a time. How much you add depends on how thick you like the broth.

5. Add 1 bay leaf, the sweet potatoes, and the three shaved corn cobs, broken in half. Simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender.

6. While the soup is cooking, heat the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter in a medium skillet. Add the leeks, the second bay leaf, the sage, and the remaining 5 cloves garlic. Cook 5-8 minutes until the leeks begin to soften. Add 1 Tbs. flour and 2 Tbs. cream, whisking as you go to make a thick sauce. Add ½ cup water, mix well, and cover the pan. Let the leeks steam over medium heat until tender. Add them to the soup.

7. When the sweet potatoes are just tender, add the cod and cook for ten more minutes, until the fish is tender and flakes apart in the soup. 2 minutes before the soup is done, add the corn kernels. Remove the shaved cobs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

8. Ladle into bowls and serve hot, garnished with chopped cilantro, with cheese biscuits or good bread.

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