Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rhode Island Fish Chowder

School started Monday, and the week before that was devoted to teacher planning, so I haven't had a lot of time to devote to anything but the most automatic cooking. Also, I was out of money, so I had to resort to pawing through the refrigerator and the closet to see what I could cook with the minimum amount of expenditure. I didn't even open the cookbook. But, with things settling down a bit, I thought I could make one or two things this week. Those of you invisible readers who actually thought I would make two dishes a night four nights a week to knock out New England, dream on. I'm not that disciplined.
I never thought of Rhode Island as having a unique cuisine. However, I understand it's a pretty unique place, so why not? This dish is interesting, because it does not conform to what I understand the basic principles of chowder to be. Now, understand that even though I am from Massachusetts, I was actually 18 before I went to Cape Cod. You are not talking to some one with a lot of experience with coastal cooking, here.
As I understand it, and I would like nothing better than to get a debate going, the basic principles of chowder are A. milk, B. potatoes, C. other stuff. This chowder contains neither milk nor potatoes. It does have other stuff, namely fish. It's more like a solid than a liquid, although it does have liquid in it. What take the place of potatoes is what they call split pilot crackers or cream crackers. I interpreted that to mean oyster crackers. I have seen cream crackers. Nabisco markets them, or did. However, I forgot to look when I was in the cracker aisle at Safeway, and in fact, had to send my husband out to get them. So, do not overlook the crackers when making this dish. They are an integral part and not a garnish.
There is a question about the quantity of crackers. We got a 10 ounce box of oyster crackers, which, between the recipe and people eating them, got all used up. And we cut the recipe in half. So if you wish to make the entire recipe, you will probably need a 20 ounce bag of oyster crackers, or similar.
There is another question here, and that is, the chowder pot. I googled chowder pot and discovered that my pot was not unlike the one presented as a chowder pot by the first vendor on Google. It's a stew pot. I thought possibly a real chowder pot would have a smaller diameter than mine and be taller. This particular brand of chowder pot did not seem to fit that model. Any ideas, readers?
The verdict from my husband Bob was, bland. The only spices are summer savory, which I was finally able to find, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper which is so microscopic an amount it is practically below Alvogadro's number, and 3 tablespoons chopped parsley. Bland. But, good.

Rhode Island Fish Chowder

1 pound salt pork, cut into strips, soaked in boiling water five minutes and drained
4 pounds cod or sea bass fillets, cut into four inch squares
3 cups finely chopped onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh summer savory, or one teaspoon dried savory
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
split pilot crackers, cream crakers or ship biscuits or any plan, unsalted crackers that have not been oil-dipped
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour

1. Make a layer of the salt pork in the bottom of a chowder kettle. Top with layer of the fish, then the onions and season with some of the savory, parsley and cayenne.
2. Make a layer of the crackers. Repeat layers until all increadients are used, ending with crackers that have been spread with two tablespoons of butter.
3. Pour water down the sies of the kettle until water almost covers top layer of crackers. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer one hour. Replenish water level with boiling water if level sinks too low.
4. Decant the liquid into a saucepan. Blend together the remaining butter and the flour and gradually whisk the mexture into the simmering liquid.
5. Transfer solid part of chowder to a tureen or soup bowls and pour thickened liquid over.
Makes eight to ten servings.

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