When I make fish chowder, serious “soup,” I typically start with a strong fish stock sweated down from the bones (or in the case of shellfish, the shells), doused with white wine, tossed with aromatic vegetables, hydrated with water and cooked gently. Our local sustainable-minded fishmonger is generous with his scraps, which he gives us just for the asking. It’s like getting fantastic food for free if you’re willing to put in the effort to extract the flavor and nutrients. This way, I’ve cooked my way through Jasper White’s brilliant book 50 Chowders. And I typically have some fish and shrimp stock in my freezer. I can’t rely on its being local, so for the Dark Days, I took a different approach.
This particular soup, more like as stew, doesn’t require pre-made stock but develops its own broth. It was adapted from a recipe devised by the late Pierre Franey, who once wrote a column in the New York Times called “60-Minute Gourmet,” later documented in a book or two. In today’s sped-up environment, we are typically looking for the 30-minute version. Using local scallops and fluke flounder, local white wine from Alba Vineyards along the Delaware River (Christmas present from a dear friend), water, local organic cream, a few local vegetables (onions, garlic, carrots, leeks and parsley), local seasonings (thyme and dried red pepper from my garden), and canned tomatoes from my pantry, this whips up in no time and creates a very satisfying dish for the dark days.
Mid-Atlantic fluke flounder is sometimes listed as a fish that is not sustainable, according to reports from the Monterey Aquarium a watchdog over the seas. I read an article recently, through the NYT blog but not necessarily written by them, which addressed the Atlantic fluke flounder, saying that our local fisherman know better about this subject than scientists in California. That seems plausible. I also had local monkfish available, and dayboat cod from nearby Massachusetts, so this soup could be made reasonably locally in several combinations during the winter.
Fish Stew after Pierre Franey’s Soupe de Poisson
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small-medium leek, split lengthwise, cleaned and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
Optional: ½ green pepper, finely chopped
1 hot red pepper, crumbled (adjust to taste and to strength of pepper)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or ½ tsp dried)
1 c dry white wine
1 c fresh or canned tomatoes
1-2 small potatoes (about ½ lb), peeled, 1/3 – ½ inch dice
1 c water
1 lb white-fleshed, non-oily fish (e.g., cod, fluke flounder, etc.)
½ pt bay scallops or 6 sea scallops quartered
½ c heavy cream
Finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Optional: toasted croutons
Saute the onion, leek, carrot and green pepper, if using, in olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the hot pepper and herbs and stir to combine. Add the wine and tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the potatoes, cover the pot and cook until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 7 minutes. Remove the lid, add the water and cook until the potatoes are tender, approximately 5 minutes. Add the fish and scallops and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook! Add the cream and bring to a boil (it should be served piping hot). Add the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve as is or with croutons.