A few subtle yet warm spices can transform a sleepy fish stew into a bright and tasty chowder with a delicate flavor and only a touch of heat.
Chowders are a very flexible style of soup/stew that can range from mildly brothy like corn or bean to thick and chewy like a New England clam chowder. Typical thickening agents are the usual butter and flour (roux) but can also include cream, milk, potato flakes or even a cornstarch slurry. One inventive method is to purée just a small portion of the finished soup or a cooked component and add it back to the chowder, building a smooth body without adding dairy or gluten.
Seafood tends to be the traditional protein for chowders, both finned and shell, although chicken and meatless versions are also quite common. Cod is the preferred fish in this chowder but, of course, any available flaky whitefish will do and frozen works perfectly well. Such delicate ingredients need very little cooking, so add the fish at the last few minutes just to cook through.
Seek out and keep stocked some quality smoked paprika, as this particular element can dramatically change the depth of flavor for some dishes. The spice level can be adjusted for personal preference with the amount of red chile flakes — just be careful not to overpower the mild flavor and texture of quality pieces of fish.
Nothing but a squeeze of fresh lemon is necessary as a garnish, and this soup makes a great summer lunch paired with a fresh salad or crackers.
Spicy Fish Chowder
10 oz cod
2 slices of bacon
1 red bell pepper
½ lb red potatoes
2 c vegetable broth
8 oz clam broth
2 c whole milk
¼ c white wine
2 T flour
2 T butter
¾ t thyme
¼ t smoked paprika
¼ t red chile flakes
1 Chop the bacon and fry in a pot until crisp. Remove and set aside to drain.
2 Chop the leeks and dice the bell pepper. Sauté both in the reserved fat until softened, about 5 min.
3 Add the butter, flour and spices. Deglaze the bottom of the pot with the wine.
4 Dice the potatoes and add along with the broths and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 25 min.
5 Add the milk, fish and bacon. Cook gently until the fish is just done, about 2-4 min.