On Eating and Loving Food

Fish chowda

Posted:  Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 9:45am

Fish chowder is one of those things we eat year-round. It’s not a summer thing. It’s not a winter thing. It’s an everyday thing.

It’s on a lot of menus in restaurants along the coast of Maine during the summer, and people order a steaming hot bowl of it even on the warmest days of the year. Why? Because it’s ridiculously good!

I stopped by Pinkham’s Seafood in Boothbay one day during the power outages a few weeks ago. You remember – those chilly days when you had to dump buckets of water in the toilet, and the downright cold long dark nights fraught with nightmares about frozen food thawing in the freezer.

Not much fun for those of us who were without electricity for four days and longer.

A saving grace was the way it brought out the good in our community. People without power were just people – not Democrats, not Republicans, not Facebook enemies who carried on endlessly about what’s right or wrong about what’s going on in town, and around the world.

We had something more immediate and real to gripe about. Even sitting for 10 minutes at the roundabout in Boothbay became secondary. At least there was heat in cars :-).

And people came to other people’s rescue. Those without power were offered free warm rooms and beds, with television. And internet! Food was prepared and delivered to dark, cold houses. People with power opened their doors to those without, offering gifts of hot showers and food.

Lisa Orne Hallinan made big pots of hot chicken soup and handed it out from the laundromat in town, even offering to deliver it to people who weren’t able to come for it. I heard it was awesome.

Anyway, back to Pinkham’s. I stopped by one day for some more swordfish. You remember the grilled swordfish I wrote about a few weeks back. Pinkham’s was getting it, fresh from the Grand Banks, and it was fabulous. I had it four times over a three-week period.

On that particular day, during the power outages, Cathy Pinkham was making huge pots full of haddock chowder and handing it out, free. Her mother made biscuits to go with it. I had gotten my power back, and was planning to cast iron pan-fry a slab of swordfish for dinner, but, ummm, that fish chowder smelled so good. And I would never turn down free food. Especially fish chowder. Okay, any free food.

I ended up eating half the fish chowder as an appetizer. It went great with a manhattan: Sweet and savory :-).

I had the second half the next day at lunch, and of course that just left me wanting more. And Cathy’s fish chowder was made just like I make it – thin, not thick. If you can stand a spoon up in the bowl, or eat it with a fork, I don’t want it. Even if it’s free. Maine fish chowder is thin. Period.

And no extra added frivolities, please. Fresh haddock (or other white fish), onions, potatoes, whole milk (or half & half if you insist) and butter. Or salt pork, like in the good old days, before it was outlawed by health freaks.

Salt pork. OMG. Unfortunately as soon as that thought popped into my head I was doomed. The good news is the salt pork I find these days is more lean than fat. Not that the fat stuff isn’t like, totally awesome when fried up in crunchy little golden brown niblets that float on top of fish chowder.

But the leaner stuff is really just as good, and healthy! Just kidding. But it IS good, and salty.

So anyway I picked up a hunk of that and went back to Pinkham’s for some fresh haddock, and made a big pot of fish chowder.

Not that you need a recipe, but here’s how I make it:

Cut up the salt pork into little squares. Fry them in a pot till golden brown and crunchy. Remove them from the fat. Leave enough of that to coat the pan bottom, and throw in a chopped onion, stirring over low, till translucent. Throw in as much potato, cut into chunks, as you want, and just cover them with chicken broth or stock, with a generous pinch of salt.

Cover and cook till almost done, then throw the haddock or whatever on top and cover for a few minutes, till the fish is cooked. Then, s-l-o-w-l-y pour whole milk or half & half, or a combination of both, over it until you have your desired ratio of liquid and solids. I’m a big fan of the soup part, so I use a lot of milk.

Fill a big bowl with that hot chowder, throw a few salt pork scraps on top, and as my cousin Janet would say, “Enjooooy.”

See ya next week!