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Often times when I make chowder, I’m standing next to my hot cast iron wood stove (on our Maine windjammer) stirring at least a couple of pots, turning bread baking in the oven and prepping yet another baked good slatted for a future meal. I think of how many pots of chowder have been made on wood stoves just like mine and the people these potages have nourished.
It’s a traditional meal that pulls musings of times past and almost demands the ritual of following in the footsteps of cooks that have gone before.
All sorts of chowder recipes abound in these parts, but most of them, while delicious, are not chowder in the book of old-time Mainers. True chowder is milky, not thick, and is slightly thickened with either day old biscuits or oyster crackers (or saltines), not a roux (a flour and butter mixture). In addition, true chowder contains salt pork, not bacon. Always. If either of these things are not in existence, then, I’ve been told, it’s not true Maine chowder, however yummy.
This recipe begins with the required salt pork, something fairly easy to come by in our local Maine butchers or even in the grocery store. This salted, but not smoked, pig belly is the backbone of flavor for every traditional chowder one might concoct. In addition, once the vegetables have sauteed and become soft, day-old biscuits are added – fairly early in the soup making process so they have ample time to soften and disintegrate, becoming indistinguishable and thickening the soup slightly.
Lastly, because I’m often making my chowder on the Riggin where I could be called away from the stove at any moment to drive the yawl boat, take the wheel, or tend to a guest, I use evaporated milk. Evaporated milk doesn’t separate nearly as easily as straight milk when the heat is on for too long. It’s a safety net for me and does add a bit of body and flavor to the soup as well.
Enjoy this nod to the food traditions of the past. Who knows, maybe one of your ancestors made chowder for their people.
Maine Seafood Chowder
6 ounces salt pork
2 cups diced celery; about 3 stalks
2 cups diced onion; about 1 large onion
6 cups potatoes, peeled if need and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 day old biscuits or 6 saltines
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups clam juice
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cans evaporated milk
1 pound haddock
1/4 pound 40-60 shrimp, shells removed and sliced in half
1 pound fresh clams, well-cleaned or 2 cups canned clams
Score the salt pork and place it scored side down in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. When the salt pork has rendered for 5 to 10 minutes, add the celery and the onions and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the biscuits, salt, pepper, clam juice and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the biscuits have disintegrated and the potatoes are cooked through. Add the evaporated milk and bring to a simmer again. Lastly add the seafood and just cook through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let the haddock finish cooking.
Serves 6 to 8
Headed off to make biscuits to go with AND into the chowder!
On a sunny day in June, our Maine Knitting Cruise crowd took to the island armed with indigo dye and yarn. The process was magical, beautiful, creative, and a complete blast.
Below is the best of the process start to finish. Ending with the yarn hanging over the wood stove for a final dry. Of course the day wouldn’t have been complete without an all you can eat Maine lobster bake too!
But before lobster’s were had in plenty…
Can’t wait to do this again
Asparagus – classy, healthy and easy. Three of my favorite things! One incredibly simple way I like to do asparagus at home is to roast them in a bag with lemon and thyme. The tang of the lemon combined with the herbal flavor of the thyme is a perfect combo for a light, healthy side to almost any protein.
Other asparagus recipes detailed in the latest Maine Ingredient column are:
Lemon and Thyme Bag-Roasted Asparagus
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bottoms off one or more bunches of asparagus. Place asparagus onto a large paper bag, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1 lemon cut into 8 wedges and a generous sprig of thyme. Roll the bag closed and then place into a baking sheets with sides. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the asparagus is just done.
Caveat: There are some that suggest that oiling the bag before putting it into the oven is a way to keep it from burning, however, that has never made much sense to me. I’ve also never had an oven fire while making this recipe, so there.
Sad that the asparagus will go away soon, but happy to start seeing peas and strawberries
New England Clam Chowder was one of the first things I learned to make when I came to Maine to work on a Maine windjammer more than twenty-five years ago. This simple recipe is both a signature dish and an iconic meal that embodies the characteristics of New England in general and Maine in specific: hearty, warming, simple, frugal and nourishing.
Salmon happens to be one of my favorite fish. The coral color alone draws me, but then the melt-in-your mouth texture hooks me completely. Often I hear from people that they don’t care for salmon because it tastes ‘fishy’ to them.
There could be two reasons for this. The first is, of course, that the fish isn’t fresh. We all know what to do about that – be pickier about where and from whom we buy our fish.
The second reason, however, is something we can change. When salmon, and many other omega-3 packed fish, is over cooked, the flavor changes, giving the fish an unpleasant ‘fishy’ smell and taste even though it’s fresh. The trick to cooking fish, and salmon in particular, is to make sure you remove it from the heat before it is completely finished cooking. The final 2 minutes while you are getting everything else to the table will allow the residual heat to finalize the cooking. This gives fish a soft, tender quality that is elegant and luscious.
Thicker pieces of salmon work well for this dish. It’s a bit of a race to get the potatoes cooked before the salmon is overcooked and having center cut pieces of salmon helps as does cooking the salmon potato side down for a longer time. For a little bit of a twist, it’s also possible to sauté the salmon and potatoes separately. Simply use two pans, one for the salmon and one for the potatoes. In this case you would make 2 to 3-inch wide patties and sauté in olive oil over medium high heat.
For the salmon:
2 pounds center-cut salmon, cut into 4 to 6 pieces
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup sour cream for garnish (or more) (optional)
For the potatoes:
3 russet potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons freshly chopped dill, or 1 teaspoon dried
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the salmon on a platter and rub with the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside. Place a strainer in the sink or over a platter. In a medium bowl, grate the potatoes and place the potatoes in the strainer. Press down on the potatoes to squeeze out any excess water. Return the potatoes to the bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Press the potatoes on top of the salmon about 1/2-inch thick. There may be extra potatoes to make potato pancakes with. Heat a skillet over medium‐high heat. Add the olive oil and carefully place the salmon in the pan, potato side down. Sauté until the potatoes are browned, for about 7 to 10 minutes and carefully turn with a spatula. Immediately put the pan in the oven and bake for another 7 minutes, carefully watching the salmon to be sure that it doesn’t become over cooked. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6 people
It’s only a few days until daylight savings time, however, until the snow melts from the ground and the temperature rises above 35 degrees most days, comfort food will remain a staple in our house. I just can’t bring myself to keep the stove off! Scarves, many layers, turtlenecks and fingerless mittens are also a constant. It’s just how it is some years in Maine.
I find myself looking for those things I love because complaining about weather, over which I have zero control, is not my cup of tea (or bowl of stew)… Could this be the last snow fall of the season? How lovely that a new coat of snow has freshened up the roadsides and our yard. Are those cardinals at the bird feeder? The seeds are on their way. The green is on its way. The warmth is on its way….
And for now I’ll delight in the cozy meals that still sound just as delicious now as they did in October when I began to crave them. Fish Stew with Porcini Mushrooms is the recipe that ran in the Portland Press Herald today. Of course Quick Buttermilk Bread goes super well with the stew. Check it out.
Turning my attention to things I like
Today, on this snowy day in Maine when the kids are home from school, the column ran with this recipe for Yellow Tomato, Ginger and Lemongrass Shrimp over Coconut Rice. There’s also a recipe for Butterscotch Mocha Cake with Butterscotch Buttercream that was inspired by Kate Schaffer’s Olive Oil Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream from her book “Desserted.” Kate and Steve own Black Dinah Chocolatiers on Ilse au Haut and if we are lucky we get to visit them at least once a summer.
Enjoy this beautiful day!
Grilled Clams and Mussels with Parmesan Aioli
Making food for our families is one of the most mundane and also sacred things we can do each day to foster healthy bodies and healthy families. Sitting down to the table for dinner can sometimes be trying when dealing with busy schedules, but it is also a way we bring our families together. Dinner with our families is just like life, sometimes wonderful and sometimes just plain messy.
Good food doesn’t have to be hard or complicated to be wonderful and nourishing.. The purpose of good food is to bring us together, to delight our palates and to share ourselves with one another – it is my hope that by creating recipes that are easy AND wonderful that this will nourish your hearts and bodies as they do ours. I wish you happy hearts and full bellies around your kitchen tables.
To make the clams and mussels sweeter and cleanse them of their sandy grit, soak them in a cornmeal and water mixture (directions below). You can also serve this as an appetizer with the aioli and fresh bread for dipping.
4 pounds of clams and mussels combined
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
juice from one lemon
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper
Place the clams and mussels in a large bowl and cover with ice-cold water. Sprinkle with cornmeal and salt and let sit for 1/2 hour, stirring once or twice. Remove any “beards” or fuzzy bits you see on the edges and then rinse. Preheat grill to medium high heat. Sauté butter and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the garlic has simmered for 30 seconds or so, add the rest of the ingredients. Place all of the shellfish on the hot grill in one layer. When they start to open, drizzle half of the garlic butter over them, reserving half. Remove them from the heat when they are fully open and drizzle the remaining garlic butter over them. Serve immediately.
Serves 4-6 or 8-10 as an appetizer
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh black pepper
Put all ingredients except for the oil into a food processor. Once everything is blended, very gradually pour the oil into the spout. Mixture should thicken. If it becomes too thick, add a teaspoon of water.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
Shrimp, Snap Pea and Couscous Salad
1/4 pound large shrimp, peeled and grilled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, or 2 teaspoons, minced
8 oz. snap peas or 2 cups
1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons dill
6 oz. feta cheese
1 cup couscous, uncooked
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
baby greens such as mesclun mix
Slice the shrimp in half lengthwise. In a medium bowl pour boiling water over the cous cous and salt. Stir gently with a fork and cover for 5 minutes. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and garlic to the pan and sauté 30 seconds. Add the snap peas, dill and salt and pepper and sauté 1 minute. Add the white wine and lemon juice and sauté another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the shrimp and tomatoes. Separate the grains of cous cous with a fork and spoon over a bed of baby greens. Crumble feta cheese on top and serve.