Fish Chowder

  • 2 ounces of salt pork, sliced thin or 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) of butter
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds fresh local fish, each filet cut crosswise in thirds (Cod was preferred by many, but haddock, bluefish, and bass were also found in 19th-century chowders.)
  • boiling water
  • 4 or 5 real chowder crackers, plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, optional
  • Fish head and frame, optional (See note below)

In a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot, fry the salt pork over medium-low heat until the fat renders and the pork becomes golden brown. (Commercial salt pork may require the addition of a tablespoon of butter or bacon fat to get it going.) Add the onions and stir for a few minutes until limp, but not brown. Stir in the flour and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat. Layer on potato slices and fish alternately, ending with potatoes. Season each stage with salt and pepper (even though the pork is really salty, you need to be surprisingly liberal here).

Pour on boiling water, just covering the uppermost potatoes. Cover snugly and bring to a bare simmer. Cook thus for about 30 minutes, or just until the potatoes are done. While the chowder cooks, soak the crackers, split and/or broken up quite a bit, in the milk (or a little cold water, if you’re not using milk); add to the chowder when it is ready. Mix very gently, and warm through; do not boil. Adjust seasonings and serve, “smoking hot,” as Melville would say, with additional crackers, if you like.

Note: if you have access to the fish’s head and frame, all the better. Before you start on the rest of the chowder, just jam it into a second pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a simmer. Turn off after 15 minutes. Proceed with the recipe, pouring on this broth instead of the boiling water in step 2. Sublime.

Serves 4.

Read edible Celebration: Chowder Party at the Shore and start planning your own summer celebration.

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