chowder weather
February 13, 2007

On a trip to Ireland several years ago I made a project of sampling the seafood chowder in every town or village we visited. Some were sweeter than others, some spicier, creamier, fishier. There's a flavor that is completely unlike anything New Englanders or Manhattanites put in their chowders—which I later discover is fennel, aniseed and possibly pernod.

The past few weeks have been the kind of cold that burns your face. It's the kind of weather where carrying groceries home from the store is a hardship because it means you can't stuff gloved hands into warmer pockets. It's the kind of weather where you need piping hot, stick-to-your ribs stew—which is something the Irish certainly know about.

I've been saving this Irish seafood chowder recipe because it seemed authentic. But upon revisiting I realize it's a chef's recipe in every frustrating sense. There are no amounts! And while I've become much more comfortable with tiny kitchen approximation, I want some sense of broth to fish ratio.

I do a quick google/epicurious study of other chowders and come up with ballpark figures. I decide I can sub crushed fennel seed for anise (since I have it on my spice rack window frame) and dispense with pernod (my liquor cabinet is already made up of bad liquors I bought for recipes and I don't particularly want it to expand). And I opt for water and clam juice as opposed to fish stock partly because I'm not sure where fish stock is in the grocery store and partly because I don't want to carry it home even if I do find it.

My approximations yield a silky chowder that delivers that special Irish chowder flavor. But I decide I need more fish (I've used about 2/3 pound salmon, monkfish and mussels) and less broth (about 3 pints) next time. Really, what I remember best about my chowder tour is how full of big chunks of fish those stews were. Mine is cheaper and lasts longer, perhaps, but it's not quite as stick-to-the-ribs as I'd aimed for (my copious cayenne additions, probably more than a teaspoon, make the soup seem warm and filling all the same).

The excess of flavorful broth I soak up with a far-too-simple Irish soda bread that turns out so well, I may substitute it for sandwich bread and morning toast from now on (especially because I end up with leftover wheat flour on the pantry shelf).

I live off stew and bread for the next three days—which means I don't have to go outside.