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Rainy Day Salmon Chowder

February 6, 2013

I am a New Englander on my father's side, and spent my childhood summers swimming in the Rhode Island waves, followed by snarfing down clam cakes and warming up with a hot cup of clam chowder. It's in my blood, so much so that when the weather gets to just the right combination of cold/stormy/gray/rainy, I immediately start craving a big steaming bowl. And it just so happens that this gloomy, rainy winter day on Vancouver Island is that perfect combination that makes for chowder weather.

Just like New England and the Maritimes, Canada's west coast has a beautiful variety of seafood and shellfish to choose from when making a savory chowder and I've had fun exploring a few new ones. But my favourite discovery since moving to British Columbia six years ago is Salmon Chowder.

I now consider myself a Salmon Chowder convert now, as I had previously tried so many lack-luster, bland or just plain BAD versions over the years that I thought it was just a not-so-good dish. But making it at home, with the ingredients I like combined with flavourful chunks of BC salmon, the chowder transforms into something delicate yet hearty, that smacks the cold right out of these dreary winter days and nights.

A note on technique: My chowder recipe below uses an interesting technique for thickening from a chowder recipe I discovered on the website for Big Bear Salmon Fishing Charters out of Ucluelet, just one mountain away from me on the opposite side of Vancouver Island - if anyone knows how to make tasty things with salmon, it's got to be them. Their recipe calls for cooking an extra potato in with the soup broth, then combining it with the milk and cream which goes back into the pot to thicken the chowder. I don't think it's a perfect science, as it seemed to take longer for my chowder to thicken than it would have using a roux and creates a thicker soup but not a THICK soup. But the flavour was really great, so I'm not complaining and it's always fun to try an alternate technique.

A note on herbs and seasoning: I really like fresh thyme in this recipe, but the herbs you like will make it taste best to you. Oregano or rosemary would be interesting variations, and dill and salmon are always great together. Be careful not to over-salt early on in the cooking process, as the bacon will add lots of salt at the end.

 

Rainy Day Salmon Chowder

Ingredients:

6 slices of bacon, fine chopped

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 stalks of celery, fine chopped

2 medium-sized potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 additional medium-large potato, peeled and cut into quarters

6-8 cups chicken stock

8 ounces (one fillet) salmon, sliced into bite-sized pieces

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup cream

1 tsp dried or fresh thyme, salt and pepper to taste

 

Fry bacon in a large soup pot on medium-low until crispy. Remove from pot onto a paper towel and reserve for later.

Leaving the bacon drippings in the pan (drain excess if needed), add the onion, garlic and celery and sauté until soft with a little salt and pepper and 1/2 of the thyme.

Add the chicken stock, and both the fine chopped potatoes and four large pieces. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until all potatoes are soft.

Warm the milk and cream together in the microwave for 1 minute or heat in a small pan, then take the four large pieces of potato from the soup pot, add them to the cream and milk, and use a hand blender or whisk to combine until smooth and thick.

Add this mixture back into the large pot while stirring the chowder.

Add the salmon chunks and simmer the chowder another 10 minutes until salmon is fully cooked and chowder is thickened (cheat with a slurry towards the end if the potato-thickening technique doesn't get the chowder quite there).

Stir in the reserved crispy bacon, then add remaining thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Devour and stay warm.

 

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