Fish Chowder with Fennel and Corn
I was in Harbor Fish Market at the sliced fish case, discussing the $20/lb "sushi-grade" tuna with one of the staff when I spotted a tub of "chowder medley" in the back of the case for $6.99. Now I'm not opposed to paying $20 for a top grade piece of fish, and I have no doubt that if Harbor Fish says it's sushi grade, it is. (It's called "trust-your- fishmonger," since there's no regulation of the designation.) But this time (maybe because I don't right now have any sort of grill available, and my favorite way to do tuna is on the grill) the medley won out.
"Chowder mix" in a lot of fish markets is a collection of odds and ends that's been sitting around for days in hopes of being sold before it's pitched. But at Harbor Fish, they cut and sell so much fish that the medley is always from today's cuttings. And they don't put the delicate pieces of haddock, cod, etc., in the mix -- it's all tuna, swordfish, hallibut, etc. -- fish that will hold together when cooked.
I didn't really know what I was going to do with the fish but when I got into the kitchen and scrounged around in the refrigerator to see what I had to work with I decided fairly quickly to improvise a quick and simple chowder. Bacon, pancetta, corn and fennel gave this take on traditional fish chowder a slightly smoky, interesting flavor, and the meaty chunks of fresh fish, coated with the flavorful broth, delivered their slightly different flavors for a very nice casual summer meal, with a big salad, of course.
Fish Chowder with Fennel and Corn
1 lb assorted firm-fleshed fish in 1" +/- chunks (remove any bones or skin)
3 C water
2 C dry white wine
1 T fennel seeds
1/2 C fresh fennel, chopped
leek tops, chopped
1/4 lb fish trimmings, bones, skin, etc.
2 C shrimp shells (or another 1/2 lb fish trimmings)
2 1" pieces lemon peel
1 small carrot, peeled and cut in chunks
1 bay leaf
1 slice pancetta, diced
1 slice smoked bacon, diced
1 boiling potato
1 ear corn, cooked and removed from cob
1/2 C milk
2 T butter
fish sauce to taste
hot sauce to taste
Combine the water, wine, fennel seeds, chopped fennel, leek tops, fish trimmings, shrimp shells (if using), lemon peel, carrot and bay leaf in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer vigorously for 45 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, sauté the bacon and pancetta in another heavy-bottomed pot of similar size until just crisp. Remove to a side plate. Pour out all but a tablespoon of fat from the pot and then sauté the onion until just tender. Remove to the side plate. Wash, then cut the potato in 1-1/2" x 1/4" spears and set aside. Wash and trim the fish, if necessary.
Strain the broth into the bacon/pancetta/onion pot and set over high heat to reduce by half. (Discard solids from the broth pot.) While the broth is boiling down, cook the potato in it until just tender. Remove to a side plate with a slotted spoon.
When the broth has reduced, stir in the fish and turn the heat down to medium. Simmer for a minute and then stir in the onions, milk and butter. Season to taste with fish sauce (or salt) and hot sauce.
To serve, use tongs or a slotted spoon to place a mound of fish in the center of a warmed flat soup plate. Lay some potato slices around the fish and then ladle some broth over it. Top with some of the corn and pancetta/bacon. Chop some of the wispy ends of the fennel fronds for garnish, if desired.
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