Despite Cadiz being my first inland address, I never developed a taste for clam or fish chowder, so I went with the chicken and corn this time. Wikipedia says that the name “chowder” may come from the French chaudière translated means “a pot,” developed from chaud, “hot.” Hot was exactly what I was looking for Saturday night. The alternative comes from the old English “Jowter,” meaning a fish peddler. Wikipedia also says chowder is popular in southern Illinois, where it also means the setting, a sort of party where it is eaten. Despite our proximity to Illinois, I had never heard that term before, though in 1958, Edwards Co. Ill. declared itself the “Chowder Capital of the World.” I wonder what my friend Liz in Massachusetts would say about that, though like me, she seems to loathe seafood.
I decided to opt for a quicker chowder and avoided making an all day chicken stock. To hurry it along, I placed a little over a pound of boneless chicken into a skillet with some hot oil. To season the chicken, I used some salt and pepper, a teaspoon of dried thyme, and just a quick sprinkle of sage on each piece. As it cooks, turn it over and add some garlic powder. When nearly complete, pour a quarter-cup of white wine into the skillet to infuse a little flavor into the chicken. When the meat is done, remove it from the heat and cut it into bite-sized pieces. As the chicken finished, I fried four strips of thick country bacon in my five-quart pan until crisp. Blot the bacon on a plate with some paper towels and set it aside.
So there’s the chicken part of it. Now we have to make a soup. Start with the trusty five-quart pan we fried the bacon in and add one medium, diced red onion with two peeled and thinly sliced carrots, and two diced ribs of celery into some sizzling bacon fat on medium heat. You know by now how I feel about garlic, so add just a teaspoon. Too much will overpower the chowder. Season the vegetables with some salt and pepper. Sautee the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the carrots tender.
Again, it sounds like standard “Alan soup” starting with a hearty mirepoix. Add one and three-quarters cup of chicken broth, and a quarter cup of white wine. For seasoning, I used just a hint of salt and pepper, and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Crumble the bacon and dump it into the pot with the chicken and stir well. For thickness, I diced one large baking potato and added it to the pot. Simmer the pot until the potatoes are tender.
Hmmm, so that sounds more brothy than chowdery, doesn’t it? And where is the corn? Add two-and-a-quarter cups of milk to the pot, and about 12 ounces of frozen corn. Stir everything well and let it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently on low heat.
Now it’s beginning to look somewhat chowdery, and we have our corn. For thickness, I made a medium roux. Heat a quarter cup of oil in the skillet and dump an equal amount of flour into it. Stir it well as it cooks and use a fork to work out lumps. Make sure the heat is on medium to medium low. When finished, a medium roux is the color of peanut butter. Let it cool, then add about two tablespoons to the chowder and again stir it well.
For velvety chowder, I put seven tablespoons of heavy cream into the pot. Once you do this, make sure the pot is hot enough to serve, but not boiling or even simmering. It scalds the cream. Taste the chowder and add more salt and pepper if needed. Don’t be too shy with the pepper, but again, this is a to-taste recipe. To enjoy warmth of a different sort, I placed a teaspoon of hot sauce into the chowder. This is not chili, so don’t add any more than that. Keep a bottle handy for your diners to add some fire to the warmth, if it suits their palate.
When all was said and done, I ladled the soup into bowls for Hawkins and I to eat. Garnish it with a bit of dried parsley and just a few celery seeds. We topped off our bowls with plenty of oyster crackers.
I need to thank my good friend Tommy for a loaf of bread he shared with me on Friday, and my new friend Bob Batz for the gift of a cookbook on braises and stews. Since the recipes in the book are under copyright, I can’t use any of them for my column, but I’ll tell Bob we will be eating well thanks to his present.
We sat down with our chowder to watch the latest episode of Friday Night Lights. If you’re not watching it now, you probably should. Hawkins and I had two hearty bowls each, with plenty left over-and even tastier on Sunday. This could serve six-to-eight diners easily as a soup course, or two starving and cold reporters. Even with only a tandem at the dinner table on Saturday, and quite possibly the best show on TV, a good time was had by all. Good eating.