Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chase the blues away chowder

It's been said that there's no use complaining about the weather because you can't do anything about it. Well, we do plenty of whining around here, but I do disagree with that basic tenet. You can do something about the weather - you can cook up something that makes you feel warm and toasty and thoroughly loved inside.

And you can share it with your friends and family and help them to feel loved inside too.

I developed this luxurious chowder earlier this year. It marries the rich satisfaction of comfort food with ingredients that signal the first glimmers of Spring, so it's a perfect choice for cold, rainy March or April nights. Because it makes a big enough batch for sharing, the cream and bacon are spread pretty thin, allowing the fresh, healthful ingredients to shine.


Winter into Spring Tilapia Chowder with Crispy Asparagus

This satisfying chowder is perfect for those early spring weeknights when fresh local asparagus starts showing up at farmers markets but the evenings still hold a chill.

Makes 10 – 12 hearty servings


2 tablespoons, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium yellow onions
½ lb thick-cut pepper bacon
10-12 sprigs fresh thyme
6-8 Cups fish or seafood stock
4-5 medium Yukon gold or other thin-skinned potatoes
2-3 Cups fresh or frozen peas
¼ Cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
I bunch asparagus
6-8 Tilapia fillets (roughly 3 lbs total)
water as needed
1.5 – 2 C heavy cream
1-2 large lemons


Preheat broiler.

Chop onions into medium dice. In a large stockpot, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat until warm and add the onions. While onions cook, chop the bacon and sauté it in a small pan until just cooked but not crispy, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add ½ the bacon and 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat into the stockpot. Return the remaining bacon to medium heat and finish cooking until crispy, about 3-4 more minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Cut potatoes into 1/3-inch slices. When onions are soft, strip thyme leaves into onion and oil mixture, stir, then add the seafood or fish stock. Turn heat up to medium-high and gently add the potatoes, peas, and parsley. Season with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Allow soup to cook at a simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut each fish fillet into halves or thirds.

Cut the tough ends of the asparagus off, leaving 3-inch spears. Spread these onto a baking sheet and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle a teaspoon of coarse salt over them. Zest the lemons and sprinkle 1/3 of the zest over spears, reserving the rest. Squeeze half of one lemon over the spears. While the soup is simmering, broil the asparagus until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove the asparagus from the broiler and set aside.

Using a hand blender, roughly puree the soup until many of the potatoes have been mashed, but some pieces still remain. Add the fish pieces and cook for 5 minutes on medium-high. Turn burner off and add the cream. Stir to blend and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.

When ready to serve, spoon chowder, with 2-3 pieces of fish, into each bowl. Top each serving with 3-4 asparagus spears, a few pieces of bacon, and a pinch of lemon zest.

Enjoy with crusty bread, a simple salad, and a New Zealand or Washington Sauvignon Blanc.

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